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What is Radiopharmacy?

By Sandra Koehler
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A radiopharmacy is a branch of pharmaceutics dealing with radioactive drugs. It is also the name of a registered facility which prepares and dispenses radioactive medications. A radiopharmacy also stores and disposes of radioactive materials.

Radiopharmacy is a branch of nuclear medicine which deals with all aspects of radioactive pharmaceuticals including compounding and quality control. Compounding is combining key ingredients to form a drug. Typically a radiopharmacy has a specialized lab to manufacture, label and store each different radioactive drug.

A radiopharmacist is a pharmacist who specializes in radioactive prescription medications such as radiopharmaceuticals and radioisotopes. A radioisotope is the naturally occurring or artificially created radioactive form of an element. Radioisotopes can be used to help diagnose, explore and investigate, and treat certain disease processes. They are also utilized for medications employed for things like radioisotope scanning, a diagnostic procedure, or radiotherapy, a cancer treatment option.

Radiopharmaceuticals are drug substances containing radioactive atoms that can be safely used on humans. It’s primarily use is for diagnostic purposes, or to help identify certain problems or conditions inside the body. However, radiopharmaceuticals are sometimes used as a form of therapy or treatment for specific ailments.

Each different radiopharmaceutical used for diagnostic purposes correlates to different areas of the body. This is calculated by the ability of the drug to pinpoint the specific targeted area and remain there for a certain amount of time. This type of radiopharmaceuticals is commonly called tracers or imaging agents.

The area identified with the radioactive drug is then scanned with a specialized camera sich as a gamma camera. Depending on the nature of the test and the abilities of the camera, static or dynamic images can be taken. Static images identify things like shape, size and lesion presence. A lesion is a physical change that usually results in injury or illness.

Dynamic images are used to determine the functioning of an organ. How well the organ functions can be determined by how much tracer or radiopharmaceuticals accumulated in the organ, and how fast it moves through or clears out. Organ functioning can also be evaluated by the amount of radioactivity given off by the body. This is determined through blood and urine samples.

Radiopharmaceuticals can also be used for therapeutic treatments. Radioactive drugs can be used independently or in combination with chemotherapy, the use of chemical agents to treat disease processes such as cancer. The primary purpose of this form of radiopharmacy called radiation therapy, is to selectively destroy contaminated tissue to eradicate the disease.

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Discussion Comments
By bear78 — On May 14, 2011

I work at a hospital and we also have a radiopharmacy in the hospital. We call it a "hot lab." It doesn't do work that needs complicated processes and equipment. They generally use radiopharmaceutical kits that just needs to be heated in the lab.

It can actually be an easy method to use. It doesn't necessarily have to be prepared at a large radiopharmacy.

By candyquilt — On May 11, 2011

In some countries, there is a central or head radiopharmacy that all radiopharmaceuticals are sent to before being distributed elsewhere. So radioactive drugs are made somewhere and then sent to this central pharmacy to be checked. It's basically a centralized system for quality control and it makes other radiopharmacies' job easier.

By SteamLouis — On May 09, 2011

I think that radiopharmacy can also be used during cancer treatment, or any other treatment really, to see how it is going.

They can't always use traditional x-ray machines to check everything. Especially if the disease is related to how an organ functions. An x-ray works to see if cancerous cells have decreased and if a tumor has gotten smaller. But they can't tell whether the organ is functioning better. Only radiopharmacy can do that.

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