BOSTON, Sept. 8 (UPI) — A global shortage of radioactive isotopes used in medical scans and treatments could jeopardize patient care and drive up healthcare costs, scientists say.
The warning was delivered in a symposium at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston, a society release said.
“Although the public may not be fully aware, we are in the midst of a global shortage of medical and other isotopes,” Robert Atcher, director of the National Isotope Development Center at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said in an interview.
“If we don’t have access to the best isotopes for medical imaging, doctors may be forced to resort to tests that are less accurate, involve higher radiation doses, are more invasive, and more expensive.”
Medical isotopes are minute amounts of radioactive substances used to diagnose and treat a variety of diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and gallbladder, kidney and brain disorders.
More than 50,000 patients a day in the United States receive diagnostic and therapeutic procedures using medical isotopes, scientists say.
Eight out of every 10 procedures require one specific isotope, technetium-99m, which has a “half-life” of only 6 hours.
Half-life is the time it takes for 50 percent of a given quantity of a radioactive substance to “decay” and disappear. Like other radioactive isotopes, technetium-99m can’t be stockpiled. It must be constantly made fresh, and distributed quickly to medical facilities, scientists say.
U.S. supplies of technetium have been low for the past 15 months, ever since its main supplier, a Canadian nuclear reactor, shut down temporarily.
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