Radioactive phosphorus therapy | Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter

Radioactive phosphorus therapy

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

This page tells you about radiotherapy treatment with radioactive phosphorus. There is information about


What radioactive phosphorus is

Radioactive phosphorus is a radioactive form of the element phosphorus. It can be 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 excess 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 may 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. After the injection you will be temporarily radioactive but this is not harmful to you. It is not 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.


Safety precautions

Small amounts of the radioactive phosphorous will be 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 do not 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

We have detailed information about internal radiotherapy in this section. Your medical physicist or radiotherapy doctor (clinical oncologist) will be able to explain the treatment to you in detail if you would like. 

You can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions that you have.

Our general organisations page gives details of people who can provide information about radiotherapy. Some organisations can put you in touch with a cancer support group. Our cancer and treatments reading list has information about books, leaflets and other resources about radiotherapy treatment.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.

Rate this page:
Submit rating


Rated 4 out of 5 based on 5 votes
Rate this page
Rate this page for no comments box
Please enter feedback to continue submitting
Send feedback
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team

No Error

Updated: 30 April 2014