Answer to Question #7645 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Nuclear Medicine Patient Issues — Diagnostic Nuclear Medicine

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


I recently had a heart scan with 1073 MBq of sestamibi 99mTc and 148 MBq of 201Tl. Your effective dose chart states that 74 MBq of 201Tl would be 17 millisieverts (mSv). This is much higher than the dose from the sestamibi. Is this because of the extended length of time the thallium stays in the body? Would the 201Tl dose that I received translate to 34 mSv?

More importantly, how can I get a general idea of the exposure to my child lying against me for two hours three days after the test? I was told this was safe by this time, but it would greatly ease my mind if someone could explain the actual dose equivalent to me.


The effective dose for a radiopharmaceutical depends on a number of factors. First, we calculate individual organ doses—which depend on the amount of the compound taken up in each organ and its rate of removal—then we apply "weighting factors" to the doses to each organ and sum up the contributions to get a single number that we call effective dose. More information may be found on our Web site.

99mTc (technetium-99m) has only a six-hour physical half-life, whereas 201Tl (thallium-201) has a 73-hour physical half-life. Biological clearance from the body is also faster for sestamibi (MIBI) than for 201Tl chloride. These two factors combined lead to somewhat higher organ doses, and thus the higher effective dose, for 201Tl chloride over sestamibi (99mTc), even though less activity is used. Yes, you are correct about the estimated effective dose from your 201Tl administration, although I think that this dose estimate for 201Tl is a bit out of date. More recent values suggest a lower dose, perhaps more like 23 mSv for a 148 MBq administration.

It's difficult to do an accurate dose calculation for reclining next to someone for a short period, with some 201Tl remaining in the body, in the situation you describe. I did a rough calculation, using a few different assumptions, and came up with values between 0.05-0.2 mSv. For comparison, we all receive about 3 mSv every year just from natural radiation in the environment around us, and this can vary up or down, within the range of the most conservative value I estimated. So it was a very low radiation exposure, also equivalent to a few trips in an airplane.

I hope that information is helpful.

Michael G. Stabin, PhD, CHP
Associate Professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 8 July 2008. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.