Radiopharmaceuticals are unique medications designed to treat cancer that has spread to the bones. Many cancers, especially cancers of the prostate, breast, and lung, metastasize, or travel to other parts of the body, often to the bones. These cancerous deposits in the bones can cause pain that may be severe and can be difficult to treat.
Some patients receive external beam radiation therapy to control both the cancer and the pain. This is a good choice when metastatic lesions are concentrated in one area of the body, such as the spine. External beam radiation is often used in combination with other therapies.
In situations where several bone sites are involved with metastases that are producing significant pain, especially when external beam radiation has already been used, radiopharmaceuticals can be an excellent option for many patients.
Radiopharmaceuticals are administered as a simple injection on an out-patient basis. The injection would take place in our department, and the procedure takes just a few minutes. The medication injected contains a radioactive ingredient, and is selectively localized in bone, especially in bone cells that are rapidly dividing. Areas with bone metastases can accumulate much greater concentrations of the radioactive medicine than the surrounding bone and tissues. Because radiopharmaceuticals travel via the bloodstream, they can treat bone metastases, anywhere in the body.
Patient response to radiopharmaceuticals can vary greatly. For most patients, pain relief begins 7 – 21 days after administration. For some patients bone pain is completely alleviated; many others receive partial relief; some experience no relief.
Side effects include the possibility of a slight increase in bone pain (flare) within a few days after the injection; and the possibility of lowering the white blood cell and platelet counts. These counts will be monitored before and after the administration of the radiopharmaceutical.