12.04.2009

RAI Shortage

radioactive woman I alluded to the shortage of radioisotope in an earlier post, but apparently the situation has gotten much worse.

The radioactive iodine isotope (aka: I-131, RAI) is pretty much the only treatment for most thyroid cancer patients and it is the only treatment that has had excellent results.  See, thyroid cells suck up iodine like it’s their job (well it kinda is their job) so using radioactive iodine is an extremely efficient and targeted therapy that kills pretty much only the thyroid cells in the body while leaving the rest of the body untouched.  Traditional chemotherapy on the other hand is pretty much poison to the entire body which is why many cancer patients get extremely sick while going through chemo.  Thyroid cancer does not respond well to traditional chemotherapy agents and external beam radiation is extremely rough on the other delicate structures of the neck so that is used as a last resort… so really I-131 is our only option to try to fully eliminate our cancer cells and reach that wonderful “cancer free” status.  Not only that, but our yearly scans are done with a tracer dose of RAI. (because any pesky, lurking thyroid cells will suck it up and light up on the scan)

So anyway, back to the shortage… I was told there was a shortage (when my RAI was pushed back a week) because a Canadian nuclear plant was “offline” (since then i’ve learned this is a permanent shutdown) so my tracer dose and possibly my treatment dose of RAI came from South Africa.  Apparently the shortage is getting worse… the American Thyroid Association reported that physicians now need to “prioritize” those who get the isotope.  The report says that some areas will get no shipments until next year!  I feel for the patients in the process of going hypo who may have to extend this torturous process.  I feel for the patients who may be in the “marginal” category for getting RAI because if there is any question/doubt if they need it or not they may not receive it. I feel for those scheduled for their follow-up scans will get bumped in the hope that more isotope will be available in months to come…

Being told you have cancer is stressful enough but when your only treatment option is getting harder to come by there is a sort of panic that starts to build.  I was lucky enough to get my RAI dose earlier this year but what if my tumor markers show persistent disease in the coming months?  Will I be able to get a second treatment dose?  Will I even be able to get a follow-up scan next year?  Maybe it’s time for the medical community to find another viable treatment option?  Maybe the nuke people need to get their acts together and get those reactors working again?

Only time will tell…

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