Radiopharmaceuticals and Breast Cancer

Radiopharmaceuticals and Breast Cancer


Radiopharmaceuticals are a group of radioactive compounds that are used in medicine to either diagnose or treat disease.  These compounds contain radioactive materials called radioisotopes. They are given either intravenously (IV), orally, or infused into a body cavity in small amounts for diagnostic purposes, and in larger amounts for therapeutic purposes.

Even though these agents have radioactive properties, when given in small amounts for diagnostic testing the dose is considered safe. The radiation a person receives in these dosages may be about the same as, or even less than, the radiation received from an X-ray.  When used as a treatment option, the higher dosing levels do have potential side effects; this is especially true in the treatment of cancer.


Radioisotopes, also known as radioactive isotopes, occur naturally or are produced by bombarding small amounts of particular elements with neutrons (usually emitted from a nuclear reactor).  The technologies that produce radioisotopes are utilized to provide safe food, water, and medical therapeutics, such as radiopharmaceuticals.

For a short introductory video on radioisotopes, click here.

Radiopharmaceuticals in Cancer Treatment

Radiopharmaceuticals used to treat cancer are in the form of alpha and beta particles that target the affected areas of tumor growth and metastasis. With this type of treatment, the given radioactive agent is taken up in the cancerous tumor and the radioactive toxins are specifically targeted to destroy the affected tissue, and prevent further growth and metastasis.

The possible side effects associated with this type of cancer treatment include diarrhea and general sickness. It can also cause low levels of blood cells after a few weeks of treatment, leading to an increased risk of infection, anemia, and more bruising than usual. This potential side effect requires patients undergoing treatment to have weekly monitoring of their blood levels after each treatment.

A rare side effect is increased pain in the treatment area that lasts for a few days or weeks after this treatment.

Current Research  

According to the latest edition of the Global Radiopharmaceuticals Market Outlook 2020, published in April 2016 by Kuick Research, the increasing use of radioisotopes is one of the major reasons for the worldwide decline in deaths caused by cancer. This is also the reason that the demand for radioisotopes, or radiopharmaceuticals, is increasing significantly.

According to the report, “the global radiopharmaceuticals market is dominated by the North American region followed by the European region. Owing to the production of Mo-99 by Canada and continuous research activities in different clinical institutes in the USA, such as the National Cancer Institute, the North American market is headed for a strong growth in the future.”

Kuick researchers highlight clinical initiatives from the following companies that they deemed showed significant promise of growth in the future in the field of radiopharmaceuticals:

  • Actinium Pharmaceuticals
  • AREVA Med
  • Avid Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals
  • Cardinal Health
  • GE Healthcare
  • Immunomedics
  • Ion Beam Applications
  • Lantheus Medical Imaging
  • Lantheus Medical Imaging
  • Merck
  • Navidea
  • Nordion
  • PETNET Solutions (Siemens Healthcare Global)

This continued high demand and interest by the pharmaceutical industry in the potential of radiopharmaceuticals is important to patients and their healthcare providers for it means that the field will continue to grow and provide opportunity for the advancement of effective therapeutics. Currently, there are many clinical trials underway to study the use of radiopharmaceuticals in cancer treatment, and scientists are only beginning to understand what this field may provide to patients and those who care for them.

To find a study near you click here.