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Research Letter
February 26, 2019

Radiation Contamination Following Cremation of a Deceased Patient Treated With a Radiopharmaceutical

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Radiation Oncology, Mayo Clinic, Phoenix, Arizona
  • 2Department of Diagnostic Radiology, Mayo Clinic, Phoenix, Arizona
JAMA. 2019;321(8):803-804. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.21673

Radiopharmaceuticals are radioactive compounds used for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes by many medical specialties. As of 2006 (the most recently reported data), 18.6 million nuclear medicine procedures were performed in the United States, with nearly 40 million performed worldwide.1 Safety regulations are well established for radiopharmaceutical administration in living patients. However, radiopharmaceuticals present a unique and often overlooked postmortem safety challenge. Cremating an exposed patient volatilizes the radiopharmaceutical, which can then be inhaled by workers (or released into the adjacent community) and result in greater exposure than from a living patient. Regulations for cremation of exposed patients vary by state, as well as internationally, and there are no regulations at the federal level in the United States. We report radiation contamination at a crematorium.