Radioactive phosphorus therapy

Radioactive phosphorus (P-32) is a type of internal radiotherapy and is a treatment for some blood disorders, such as polycythaemia vera (PV) and essential thrombocythaemia (ET). 

What is radioactive phosphorus?

Radioactive phosphorus is known as P-32. It is a radioactive form of sodium phosphate.

When you might have radioactive phosphorus

You might have radioactive phosphorus to treat polycythaemia vera or essential thrombocythaemia.

Polycythaemia vera

Polycythaemia vera is a rare blood disorder that means your bone marrow makes too many red blood cells. 

The bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside some bones, it makes red and white blood cells and platelets.  

Essential thrombocythaemia

Essential thrombocythaemia is another rare blood disorder that causes a high number of platelets to form. Platelets help clot the blood.

How does radioactive phosphorus work?

Your bone marrow absorbs the radioactive phosphorus and gets a dose of radiation. The radiation slows down the number of red blood cells and platelets made. Very little radiation goes to the rest of the body.

This treatment is not commonly used because other types of treatment are available.

How you have radioactive phosphorus

Your doctor or nurse will take a blood sample before you have treatment. You have radioactive phosphorus as an injection into your bloodstream through a small tube put into your vein (cannula). This should only take a few minutes.

 You can go home straight afterwards.

Possible side effects of radioactive phosphorus

There is a small risk that you might not produce enough red blood cells and platelets. So you might have blood tests after treatment to check for this. 

Some people feel a bit sick but this is uncommon. 

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 for radioactive phosphorus

After the injection you are mildly radioactive. This isn't a risk to anyone else because it is such a small dose and the radioactivity has such a short range.

Small amounts of the radioactive phosphorus 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.

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