Nuc med patients could get hung-up at major airport security

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There are around 60,000 U.S. citizens that undergo nuclear medicine treatment or tests each day, but what they might not realize is that they could be in store for some major headaches at larger airport security stations, according to SNM (Society for Nuclear Medicine), an international molecular imaging and nuclear medicine society.

“Due to heightened concerns about terrorism, sensitive radiation detectors are used in some major cities and in public transportation facilities,” said Martin P. Sandler, SNM President. “Occasionally, a patient who has had a nuclear medicine procedure may be stopped by security personnel because he or she may trigger the alarm on a radiation detector. On rare occasions, this could cause long delays, interrogation and body searches,” added Sandler.

The radioactivity of material used in such procedures dissipates quickly. However, the sensitive devices used by security at larger airports might be able to pick up tiny detectable amounts. This means that travelers could experience delays as security offers assess the cause of the radiation, SNM said

Although the material used for these procedures is small and soon loses its radioactivity, it may take time before a patient stops emitting detectable levels that could be picked up by the sensing devices used today at security screening points, SNM said

Especially in light of the upcoming holidays, the organization has released the following travel tips for patients:

  • Patients should schedule travel after nuclear medicine procedures, based on the specific radioisotope received and the length of time it remains detectable;
  • Patients should know what radioisotope has been used in the treatment or study. Commonly used radioisotopes could set off radiation monitors and each has its own “half-life” or period of continuing radioactivity, include technetium-99m (Tc-99m), fluorine-18 (FDG) and thallium-201 (Tl-201), SNM said;
  • Patients should discuss with their providers how low radiation will be emitted following treatment;
  • Patients should obtain a letter from their regarding the details of their treatment; and
  • Patients should let their doctors know if security personnel stop them after triggering radiation devices so that the incidents can be tracked.