A patient undergoing a nuclear medicine procedure will receive a radiation dose. Under present international guidelines it is assumed that any radiation dose, however small, presents a risk.
The radiation doses delivered to a patient in a nuclear medicine investigation present a very small risk of inducing cancer. In this respect it is similar to the risk from X-ray investigations except that the dose is delivered internally rather than from an external source such as an X-ray machine.
The radiation dose from a nuclear medicine investigation is expressed as an effective dose with units of sieverts (usually given in millisieverts, mSv).
The effective dose resulting from an investigation is influenced by the amount of radioactivity administered in megabecquerels (MBq), the physical properties of the radiopharmaceutical used, its distribution in the body and its rate of clearance from the body.
Effective doses can range from 6 μSv (0.006 mSv) for a 3 MBq chromium-51 EDTA measurement of glomerular filtration rate to 37 mSv for a 150 MBq thallium-201 non-specific tumour imaging procedure.
The common bone scan with 600 MBq of technetium-99m-MDP has an effective dose of approximately 3.5 mSv.
Formerly, units of measurement were the curie (Ci), being 3.7E10 Bq, and also 1.0 grams of Radium (Ra-226); the rad (radiation absorbed dose), now replaced by the gray; and the rem (Röntgen equivalent man), now replaced with the sievert.
The rad and rem are essentially equivalent for almost all nuclear medicine procedures, and only alpha radiation will produce a higher Rem or Sv value, due to its much higher Relative Biological Effectiveness (RBE).
Alpha emitters are nowadays rarely used in nuclear medicine, but were used extensively before the advent of nuclear reactor and accelerator produced radioisotopes.
The concepts involved in radiation exposure to humans is covered by the field of Health Physics.
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