What are medical isotopes used for?
One of the principal uses of medical isotopes is for diagnostic imaging procedures in the human body. Radioactive isotopes such as technetium-99m (Tc-99m), a daughter isotope of Mo-99, are light-producing elements used in nuclear medicine imaging. When introduced into the patient’s body for medical diagnostic procedures, these radioisotopes help doctors examine how their patients’ various tissues and internal organs are functioning. Some examples of diagnostic nuclear medicine include imaging coronary blood flow to diagnose deep vein thrombosis, coronary artery disease, or other cardiovascular disease. The radioactive emissions of certain medical isotopes can also be used in therapeutics, especially cancer therapeutics. Some applications of medical radioisotopes to treat disease include treating thyroid cancer and early-stage prostate cancer. Radioactive medical isotopes which strongly emit alpha or beta radiation for very brief periods can be used to destroy cancer cells in tumors, for example. Such procedures are referred to as “radiation therapy.”
Medical isotopes also play a role in sterilizing medical equipment. Longer-lived medical isotopes with more intense radioactivity are packaged as sealed radiation sources and their emissions are used to kill bacteria and other microorganisms on reusable tools and equipment in between uses.