Holiday travel can ring more than jingle bells

November 15, 2006

The Society of Nuclear Medicine wants healthcare providers to inform patients undergoing nuclear medicine treatment or testing that they may set off security alarms at high-risk locations with the radioactive materials in their bodies.

The Society of Nuclear Medicine wants healthcare providers to inform patients undergoing nuclear medicine treatment or testing that they may set off security alarms at high-risk locations with the radioactive materials in their bodies.

The warning comes at a time when many people will be traveling over the upcoming holidays.

"Due to heightened concerns about terrorism, sensitive radiation detectors are used in some major cities and in public transportation facilities," said SNM president Dr. Martin P. Sandler. "Occasionally, a patient who has had a nuclear medicine procedure may be stopped by security personnel because he or she may trigger the alarm on a radiation detector. On rare occasions, this could cause long delays, interrogation, and body searches."

Commonly used radioisotopes that could set off radiation monitors include technetium-99m, F-18 FDG, and thallium-201. The majority of problems with radiation monitors have involved the use of iodine-131, which may be detectable for as long as three months after treatment.

Most nuclear medicine studies are performed with Tc-99m, which should not be detectable by sensitive radiation monitors three or four days after a test. FDG is the most common radioisotope used with PET imaging, and it should become undetectable one day after a test.

Myocardial perfusion imaging can be performed with TC-99m or Tl-201 or a combination of both. Tl-201 may remain detectable for up to 30 days.

Healthcare providers should discuss how long patients may emit detectable radiation following treatment. The SNM recommends that patients be given a letter detailing contact information for the testing facility, the name of the nuclear medicine procedure, the date of the treatment or test, the radionuclide that was used with its half-life and administered activity, and 24-hour contact information.

For more information from the Diagnostic Imaging archives:

ACR primer helps prepare for radiological terrorism

Radionuclides trip portable security detectors