Radioisotopes

This therapy uses radioactive liquids known as radioisotopes or radionuclides to destroy cancer cells. The liquid can be given:

  • by mouth as a drink or capsules
  • as an injection into a vein.

Cancer cells take in the radioisotope more than normal cells do. This means they get a higher dose of radioactivity. This eventually destroys the cancer cells.

Your team will tell you how you will have your treatment and any possible side effects.

Radiation safety during radioisotope therapy

Your treatment is planned to give you the amount of radiation needed to treat the cancer safely and effectively. But your team are careful to protect other people around you from radiation. Safety measures may be slightly different in different hospitals. Your team will explain what to expect.

After treatment, your body fluids are slightly radioactive for a time. Your team will give you instructions about using the toilet and cleaning up any spilled body fluids safely. You may be advised to avoid close contact with children or pregnant women for a time. 

If your treatment involves a stay in hospital, you may be cared for in a single treatment room. You may be asked to stay in your room at all times. Tell your team if you are worried about this so they can help.

Your team will tell you any other safety measures you need to follow.

After the doctor left [the room], it was a strange feeling. It was suddenly quite isolating. So, having my phone was essential so that I didn’t feel alone.

James

Iodine-131

This is the most common type of radioisotope therapy. It is mainly used to treat some types of thyroid cancer. It may also be used to treat other rarer neuroendocrine tumours. You usually have it as capsules or a drink. But it can also be given as an injection into a vein in the arm. You may have to stay in hospital to have this treatment.

We have more information about treating thyroid cancer and neuroendocrine tumours.

Strontium-89 and Samarium-153

These radioisotopes can be used to treat some types of cancer that have spread to the bones (metastatic bone cancer). This treatment can help reduce bone pain and improve quality of life. You can usually go home soon after having this treatment.

We have more information about treating metastatic bone cancer.

Radium-223

This radioisotope is sometimes used to treat prostate cancer that has spread to the bones. It may be used if hormone therapy alone is no longer controlling the cancer. You can usually go home soon after having this treatment.

We have more information about treating metastatic bone cancer and about advanced prostate cancer.

Back to Internal radiotherapy explained

Brachytherapy

Brachytherapy uses radioactive implants such as seeds, pellets, wires or plates that are put near or inside the tumour.