Radiopharmacy: dispensing and protection

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Chapter: Essentials of Inorganic Chemistry : Radioactive Compounds and Their Clinical Application

Radiopharmacy deals with the manufacture and dispensing of radioactive materials that are used as radioactive medicines (or better known as radiopharmaceuticals).


Radiopharmacy: dispensing and protection

Radiopharmacy deals with the manufacture and dispensing of radioactive materials that are used as radioactive medicines (or better known as radiopharmaceuticals). Radiopharmaceuticals can be used as diagnostic or therapeutic tools. Radionuclides that are used for a diagnosis should have as little an impact as possi-ble on the health of the patient. Therefore, radioactive elements with a short-half-life and ones that only emit γ-radiation are seen as ideal. The radionuclide 99mTc in combination with a gamma camera is often used for imaging purposes, as the former has a half-life of 6 h and only emits γ-rays. Radionuclides that emit β-particles are more suitable for a therapeutic use. 131I with its β-radiation is used for the treatment of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and metastatic diseases of the thyroid gland. 131I also emits gamma radiation, which can be used to diagnose renal function and determine exactly the glomerular filtration rate.

Radiation can cause harmful effects in humans, which include nausea, skin burns, cancer, sterility, hair loss and even death. Nevertheless, all of these side effects depend on the type of radiation and its energy, the penetration power and the time scale of exposure. If radiation is used correctly, it can offer a range of useful applications. These include the treatment of cancer, sterilisation of medical instruments and, away from clinical applications, the generation of energy and dating of archaeological remains.

The correct protection from radiation is crucial for the safe handling of radioactive material. Radiation protection can be achieved by shielding; plastic and aluminium can shield from β rays, whereas lead or tung-sten is needed to effectively shield from gamma rays. Furthermore, distance and time scale of exposure are important factors for the effective protection from radiation. The radiation dose is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the radiation source. Also, minimising the time of exposure helps to reduce the risk of side effects from radiation.

The role of a specialised pharmacist, amongst other things, focusses on the correct dispensing of the radio-pharmaceutical, which is more complicated than the dispensing of a nonradioactive item. The pharmacist is responsible to ensure that the proper prescribed dose is prepared and dispensed. This is not as simple as it sounds, as radioactive material undergoes continuous decay. Therefore, it is important to state when the activ-ity was measured and what the half-life of this radionuclide is. Radiopharmaceuticals are typically dispensed in doses of units of activity (mainly kilobecquerel or megabecquerel).

 

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