Fight against cancer

Radiotherapy, also referred to as radiation therapy, ionising rays are used to destroy cancer cells. A beam is directed precisely toward the tumour. With radiotherapy the applied radiation dose and target tissue area need to be accurately defined and controlled to minimise damage inflicted upon healthy tissue and organs by the ionising radiation. SCK•CEN carries out innovative research in this field. Different radioisotopes such as iodine and iridium facilitate highly specific radiation so that the patient receives a lower dose than that applied in ‘traditional’ external radiotherapy with X-rays. This results in fewer side effects, even though the tumour is attacked at least equally successfully. The radiation can also be administered internally via an injection with radioisotopes or by taking medication orally. These drugs are referred to as radiopharmaca.


SCK•CEN supplies 20 to 25 % of the main radioisotopes required globally for cancer treatment. The largest share of isotope production – no less than 90 % - involves molybdenum-99. This radioisotope is used in medical imaging to successfully detect and monitor tumours. This greatly increases the chances of recovery. Molybdenum-99 is also used during surgical procedures such as heart operations to eliminate the need to open the chest cavity. This promotes patient recovery. Molybdenum-99 also facilitates the monitoring of specific organs to ensure that the correct medication is administered.

In palliative medicine specific radioisotopes such as strontium-89 are used. As an example, the quality of life of terminally ill patients with bone tumours is greatly enhanced with effective pain management without the side effects of morphine and other painkillers.


More info: Production of radioisotopes

More info: Medical radiation dose optimisation 

Medical applications