Use of nuclear isotopes in medicine: How it works?

Often words like “nuclear” and “radiation” seem rather scary when it comes to human health and longevity. It is however impossible to imagine modern medicine without cutting edge technology utilizing nuclear radioisotopes.
Globally there is a widespread awareness regarding the use of radiation and radioisotopes in medicine, particularly for diagnosis (identification) and further therapy (treatment) of various serious diseases. In developed countries which account for a quarter of the world’s population, roughly one in 50 people use diagnostic nuclear medicine annually.
The major question is, how does nuclear medicine and radiopharmaceuticals (medicinal drugs which contain radioactivity)  work and what benefits can they bring to Tanzania?
First of all radiation is simply the release of energy. Like an electric bulb the radioactive atoms produce energy that can be used for medical purposes. Radio pharmaceuticals can be introduced into the patient’s body by injection, swallowing, or inhalation. The amount given to the person is insignificantly small. In the body radioisotopes emit short range particles (alpha or beta) which lose all their energy over a very short distance, therefore causing a lot of local impaction damaged cells. In general radio pharmaceuticals are used for therapeutic purposes: cancer cells destruction, pain treatment in palliative care for bone cancer or arthritis.
With the use of these nuclear technologies,  medical practitioners are able to diagnose and treat numerous diseases in a safe and painless way. Nuclear medicine allows medical practitioners to accurately identify various medical information that may otherwise be unavailable, require surgery or the use of more expensive and invasive diagnostic tests. The procedures often identify abnormalities very early in the progression of a disease — long before some medical problems are apparent with traditional diagnostic tests. This early detection allows for the disease to be treated sooner at a far less critical stage which will allows for a far more positive prognosis of the treatment.
Nuclear Medicine can diagnose many different types of diseases. It can be used to identify abnormal lesions deep in the body without exploratory surgery. The procedures can also determine whether or not certain organs are functioning normally. For example, nuclear medicine can determine whether or not the heart can pump blood adequately, if the brain is receiving an adequate blood supply, etc.
The application of nuclear medicine in Tanzania is not something new. Using nuclear techniques in medicine local doctors now have a greater chance to deliver more efficient treatment for patients with serious diseases like cancer and cardio-vascular ones.
A great example is the Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI) in Dar es Salaam, which uses nuclear medicine techniques like 3D scanning to detect tumors and treat patients more efficiently. For instance due to its capacities and activity Dar es Salaam and neighboring regions are generally found to have higher percentage of cancer disease registry. Greater numbers are due to availability of diagnostic centers in the city.
Ocean Road’s data The ORCI data reveals that Dar es Salaam leads with almost 17 per cent of all the cancer cases diagnosed in 2016, followed by Mbeya (11 per cent), Morogoro (11 per cent) and Kilimanjaro (9 per cent).
Dr Hamid Mustafa, a clinic oncologist at Regency Specialized Polyclinic in Dar es Salaam, notes that better diagnosis and an increase in uptake of cancer screening is leading to the discovery of more cases that would otherwise go undiagnosed and untreated.
In 2017 the executive director at ORCI Dr Julius Mwaisegale explained that cancer cases diagnosed at ORCI had increased from 2,500 to 56,000 cases in the period between 2005 and 2015. Use of nuclear medicine is of high importance for the country to detect and cure serious diseases at an early stage. 
Tanzania is set to develop a cancer registry as part of a new health policy to manage the non-communicable diseases. Increased capacity building in nuclear medicine will help to reduce the mortality rate of the country’s cancer cases, as early scanning and tumor detection can save thousands of lives.

In future Tanzania can follow the example of Zambia, which plans to establish its own center of nuclear science and technologies to give an impetus to its own nuclear medicine industry. Not only will the center produce much needed medical isotopes but will also provide grounds to conduct comprehensive research in the nuclear sphere for all professionals. 
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