Systemic radiation therapy

What is it?

Systemic radiation therapy, also called unsealed isotopes, is radiation in liquid form that is injected into the vein or swallowed and travels through the body to target cancer cells. The systemic radiation therapy procedure differs from other radiation treatment procedures in that the radiation is “unsealed” and travels through your body to concentrate in certain areas where tumor cells are located. Patients typically stay in the hospital for one to two days after the procedure.

What cancers is it used it to treat?

Systemic radiation therapy is used to treat some thyroid, bone, and prostate cancers and occasionally others.

We use it to treat symptoms associated with cancer, which is called palliative treatment. For example, at UK, we use a type of systemic radiation therapy called Radium-223 to ease the pain associated with prostate cancer that has spread to the bone.

  • This treatment works by radiating the tumor that is affecting the bone and enabling the bone to use calcium to heal itself. Radium-223 is often less toxic to the bone marrow than other treatments.
  • Patients receive Radium-223 treatment intravenously in six five-minute sessions once a month for six months. And they typically begin seeing improvement in their bone pain after two to three sessions.
  • Side effects of Radium-223 treatment include a temporary increase in bone pain, possible bone marrow suppression, and sometimes nausea.