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Radioactive phosphorus therapy

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Find out about radiotherapy treatment with radioactive phosphorus. There is information about


What radioactive phosphorus is

Radioactive phosphorus is known as P-32. It is a radioactive form of sodium phosphate. It is used as a treatment for some blood disorders, including one called polycythaemia rubra vera (PCRV). Polycythaemia rubra vera means that your bone marrow makes too many red blood cells. You may make too many platelets and white blood cells too.

Radioactive phosphorus is absorbed by the bone marrow and gives a dose of radiation, which stops it making too many cells. Very little radiation is given to the rest of the body. This treatment is not commonly used because other types of treatment are available. It might be used if you have had PCRV for some time.


How you have radioactive phosphorous

You have radioactive phosphorous as an injection into your bloodstream through a small tube put into your vein (cannula). You have the treatment in the outpatient department. You can go home straight afterwards.


Possible side effects

There aren't usually any side effects. 

Some people have nausea but it is uncommon. 

After the injection you are temporarily mildly radioactive but this doesn't harm you. It isn't a risk to anyone else because it is such a small dose and the radioactivity has such a short range. Treatment with radioactive phosphorus over many years can cause a small increase in the risk of leukaemia. Your doctor or nurse will discuss this with you. 


Safety precautions

Small amounts of the radioactive phosphorous are present in your urine for a day or so after the treatment. For the rest of the day it is important to remember to flush the toilet twice and to wash your hands thoroughly. This makes sure that other people don't come into contact with the radiation. 

If you use incontinence pads or have a catheter bag your nurse will discuss with you how to manage and dispose of these.


More information about radioactive phosphorus

Find out about

Internal radiotherapy

Internal radiotherapy safety procedures

Coping with cancer emotionally

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Updated: 4 May 2016