About Radiopharmaceutical Therapies

A look at how radiopharmaceutical therapy (also known as targeted radionuclide therapy) works, courtesy of The European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST).

Molecular therapy (also called targeted radionuclide therapy or molecular radiotherapy) involves a radioactive drug compound called a radiopharmaceutical that seeks and destroys cancer cells.

Most radiopharmaceuticals consist of a small amount of radioactive material — called a radionuclide — combined with a cell-targeting molecule. Some radionuclides have a natural ability to hone in on specific cells or biological processes and do not need to be combined or modified. When injected into the patient’s bloodstream, the radiopharmaceutical travels to and delivers radiation directly to disease sites. Because it is highly selective in its ability to damage cancerous cells while limiting radiation exposure to healthy tissue, molecular therapy is known as a targeted therapy.

Molecular therapies offer promise as a vehicle for personalized treatment of cancer, because radiopharmaceuticals may potentially be tailored to the unique biologic characteristics of the patient and the molecular properties of the tumor.

In addition to the radiopharmaceuticals being used today to treat a variety of cancers — including advanced prostate cancer — researchers are working on developing and testing new radiopharmaceuticals.

For information about cancer treatment using radioisotope therapy, go to, Radiopharmaceutical Therapy Infographic.