Are radioactive isotopes safe?

Are radioactive isotopes safe?

by Yenny (SU)

When you hear the word “radioactive isotopes,” it might conjure images of people in protective suits carrying around a glowing orb in metal tong-like tool. To find out if radioactive isotopes are safe or not, let’s break down what they are first. Radioactive isotopes are basically unstable chemical elements that release energy in the form of gamma, alpha, and beta rays. Basically, radioactive isotopes are like tiny packets of energy moving in waves through a material or space itself.  Certain types of radiative isotopes can be safely used to destroy tumorous cancers, or create detailed real-time images of the inner workings of the body.

More About Radioactive Isotopes

How long are the isotopes radioactive? This varies from isotope to isotope, but medically speaking, these isotopes usually have a half life any where from a few hours to several days. (Meaning that if an isotope has a half life of six hours, then the radiation will dissipate in a total of twelve hours.)

How much radiation is there in isotopes? Very little, because of the way it decays. This is called “isomeric” process, and it involves the emitting of gamma rays and low energy electrons. The dose to the patient is low because there is no high energy beta emitted.

How are radioactive isotopes used? When used in medical practices, radioisotopes are used particularly for diagnosis and therapy of various medical conditions. In regards to diagnoses, the isotopes are used in conjunction with scanning machines such as MRI, CT scans, and others, to image and diagnose disorders that couldn’t otherwise be seen.

The isotopes are put into tracers or chemical compounds that can be given by injection, inhaled, or ingested. The tracers are generally short-lived and emit gamma rays from within the body. The gamma rays are then picked up by the scanning equipment. It can also be used to examine the blood flow to the brain, or how well certain organs are functioning, like the liver, kidneys, or heart.

When used in treatment, the radioactive isotopes are attached to biologically active substances like iodine (for thyroid) or glucose (to treat the brain), and it’s introduced into the normal biological process and evacuated in usual ways. This targets the specific organs that are needed to be treated.

How safe are radioactive isotopes? When used in carefully controlled medical applications, radioactive isotopes are safe and not nearly as scary as we first imagined. The radiation from these isotopes have a short half life and only give off low levels of radiation. They are not only safe to use, but are instrumental in helping to both diagnose and to treat life threatening illnesses.

If you, or a loved one needs any form of nuclear imaging, or treatment using radioactive isotopes, or if you would like to schedule an appointment for any kind of diagnostic imaging,  please call (561) 795-5558 today, or go online to make an appointment. Our board-certified radiologists are right here waiting in the Lake Worth, Wellington, Belle Glade, or Royal Palm Beach areas.