What Effects Do Radiopharmaceuticals Produce In A Patient?

The effects that radiopharmaceuticals produce in a patient are the reaction generated by their administration. They are variable, since they depend on the dose of the radiopharmaceutical and the organ under study or treatment, also called the target.

Radiopharmaceuticals are radioactive drugs made up of a radioactive isotope and a molecule or agent that carries it. Once the radiopharmaceutical is injected into the patient (or ingested orally), it is directed to the body’s system that processes it.

The radioactive signal emitted is captured by special equipment used in nuclear medicine, such as: Gamma cameras, PET (positron emission tomography) and SPECT (single photon emission tomography). The latter are better known by their acronyms in English: PET and SPECT respectively.

Although the radiation received by the patient is similar to the radiation dose when performing a plain radiograph, the information provided is of more diagnostic value.

The images obtained are molecular and functional, that is, they reveal how the tissues and organs to be explored function and if they present any molecular alteration.

The most common radioisotopes are iodine, gallium, and technetium, each in different modalities and doses.

Main effects of radiopharmaceuticals in a patient

Depending on the purpose for which the radiopharmaceutical is used in the patient, we can say that it has two types of effects: Diagnostic effects and therapeutic effects, also recognizing the existence of side effects.

In general, they are not invasive examinations and do not have adverse effects.

Diagnostic effects

The property of a radiopharmaceutical to emit a radioactive signal is used in nuclear medicine to perform diagnostic tests that allow studying the functioning of a specific organ or a complete system.

Thyroid, bone and kidney gammagrams are the most frequent studies for diagnosing different pathologies.  

Therapeutic effects

The radiopharmaceutical is delivered to the patient in order to make the radiation reach an organ or system. The therapeutic power of the radiopharmaceutical is based on the radiation emitted on the target organ.

The emitted radiation destroys rapidly growing cells, without damaging cells that grow at a normal rate.

The vast majority of cancer cells are fast growing, so applying the indicated radiopharmaceutical will benefit in the treatment of certain conditions.

Currently, prostate, thyroid and bone cancer are treated with radiopharmaceuticals. 

It is also used to relieve pain caused by bone cancer and joint pain due to arthritis.

Side effects

The most common effects of the application of radiopharmaceuticals are:

-Moderate to severe headache.



-Stomach pains, diarrhea, nausea and / or vomiting

-Shaking chills

-Breathing difficulty

-Skin conditions such as redness, itching, rashes and hives.

-Swelling in hands and / or feet.


  1. Aronson, JK (2015). Meyler’s Side Effects of Drugs: The International Encyclopedia of Adverse Drug Reactions and Interactions. Elsevier.
  2. Mallol, J., & Mallol Escobar, J. (2008). Radiopharmacy Manual. Editions Díaz de Santos.
  3. O’Malley, JP, Ziessman, HA, & Thrall, JH (2007). Nuclear medicine: the requirements in radiology. Madrid: Elservier Espaa.
  4. Sampson, CB (1994). Textbook of Radiopharmacy. Gordon and Breach Publishers.
  5. Wikipedia, L. e. (2017, 05 31). Nuclear medicine. (2017, May 31). . Retrieved 09 09, 2017, from www.es.wikipedia.org

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