Which Radioactive Element is Used in the Treatment of Cancer?

The past two decades have witnessed significant changes in how different cancers are treated. Radiotherapy is one such effective means of treating and prolonging survival in more advanced cancers. Different types of radiotherapy, such as brachytherapy, image-guided radiation therapy, proton therapy, intensity-modulated radiation therapy, and stereotactic radiosurgery, are now performed in the best cancer hospital in Navi Mumbai

Such therapies are done using radioisotopes like iodine-131, strontium-89, samarium-153, radium-223, and cobalt-60, among others. Here is a little more detail about different therapies using radioactive elements.

Internal radiotherapy and its types


Internal radiotherapy is done by putting a radioactive source inside the body. The two main types of internal radiotherapy are radioactive liquid treatment and brachytherapy. Radiotherapy works by damaging the DNA within the cancer cells to prevent its division and growth.

Radioactive liquid treatment

It uses radioactive liquids to destroy cancer cells. The liquid is given either through an injection into the veins or by mouth as capsules or drinks. 

Some of the radioactive liquids are:

Iodine-131: It is commonly used for treating thyroid cancers and benign thyroid conditions. 

Strontium-89: It treats secondary bone cancers.

Radium-223: It treats secondary bone cancers.

Phosphorus-32: It treats blood disorders.


Brachytherapy uses plates, wires, pellets, or seeds as radioactive implants inside the tumor. The radioactive sources for brachytherapy are iodine-125, iridium-192, and palladium-103. These elements have short half-lives that permit the insertion of brachytherapy seeds into cancerous tumors and are never removed. 

The commonly treated cancers using brachytherapy are womb, cervix, and prostate cancers. It is also used to treat cancers in the esophagus, vulva, vagina, eye, rectum, and lung.   

External beam radiation therapy and its types

External beam radiation therapy is the process of aiming radiation at cancer. It is a local treatment to treat a specific part of the body and is performed in the best cancer hospital in Navi Mumbai. 

The radioactive elements used for this type of therapy are cesium or cobalt. The beams used in external radiation therapy are derived from three kinds of particles: electrons, protons, and photons. Electrons are negatively charged particles and cannot travel far through body tissues. 

Hence, it is used for treating tumors on the body surface or the skin. Protons are positively charged particles and their beams travel deep into the body. These beams do not scatter radiation through the body and stop as they reach the tumor. 

Photon therapy is the most common type of external radiation therapy. A machine produces the therapy called a linear accelerator to give high-energy X-rays inside the cancer cells. 

3-D conformal radiation therapy: It conforms to the tumor’s shape by delivering beams from different directions. The precision helps in using radiation in high doses on the tumor.

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy: It uses many smaller beams than the 3-D conformal radiation therapy, and the beam’s strength can be changed as per requirement.

Image-guided radiation therapy: It involves repeated scanning like PET, MRI, or CT scans to detect changes in the location and size of the tumor. The imaging facilitates adjusting radiation dose and position to improve treatment’s accuracy and protect normal tissue. 

Tomo therapy: The treatment requires taking images of tumors before treatment sessions to ensure precise targeting. The machine delivers radiation in a spiral pattern which helps spare normal tissues.

Stereotactic radiosurgery: It requires the patient to be placed on a device or headframe to prevent movement. Here, small radiation beams are aimed at the tumor from different directions where the targeted dose is delivered to the region where the beams come together. 

Stereotactic body radiation therapy: It uses special equipment to hold the patient still and deliver precise beams to a limited region. Radiotherapy has gained wide popularity, and there are different types and methods available to treat different types of cancers effectively. 

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