Nuclear Medicine is a non-invasive diagnosis and therapeutic method combining revolutionary imaging techniques and innovative examination procedures, to offer patients the best possible quality of life while increasing their life-expectancy.
by Prof. Thierry Velu, CHIREC Group Belgium
Nuclear Medicine is an important therapeutic and diagnosis tool for patients suffering from cancer.
Let us begin with the diagnosis section, one of the most important Nuclear Medicine applications. The PET Scan was a revolution in cancerous disease diagnosis, since it is the first exam to produce functional imaging from a metabolic basis rather than a morphological one. In other words, it enables the imaging of a lesion on the basis of its activity rather than its shape. This is important in cancer, as tumors are hypermetabolic: they consume a lot of glucose (sugar), i.e. energy. CT Scans generate a three-dimensional image of the inside of the body.
PET and CT Scan coupling combines the advantages of these two approaches, giving precise information on the localization of the suspect lesions. A radioactive marker, often the 5-fluoro-deoxy-glucose or FDG, is injected in the patient’s body where it is consumed by cancerous cells – enabling tumoral mass detection by the appropriate equipment.
But, as we mentioned at the beginning, Nuclear Medicine is also a precious help in the treatment of some cancers. To better understand the therapeutic application, let us take the example of thyroidian cancers. The thyroid is a hormone-producing organ located at the base of the neck that traps iodine to create these hormones. The injection of a marked isotope (iodine-131) in a patient carrier of such a cancer enables the radioactive iodine to enter the cancerous cells. It is the iodine radioactivity which will kill these cells. Carried out after surgery, this treatment is very specific, since only thyroidian cells which are normal and cancerous will trap the iodine. This treatment will definitely cure 85% to 90% of patients, who will then be monitored with another Nuclear Medicine exam: a scintigraphy via a small dose of iodine-131, which will show any possible relapse.
Nowadays, as well as trying to cure or increase the life expectancy of cancer-suffering patients, oncologists also seek to offer the best possible quality of life to their patients.