Nuclear Medicine in Action in Sri Lanka: A Day at the Peradeniya Nuclear Medicine Unit

Dr Damayanthi Nanayakkara, one of Sri Lanka’s top nuclear medicine physicians, at the Peradeniya Nuclear Medicine Unit in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. The Nuclear Medicine Unit has been supported for over forty years by the IAEA. Nuclear medicine involves the use of small quantities of radioactive substances to diagnose, treat and manage illnesses, including cancer. Every year, around 200 nuclear medicine students from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Peradeniya have the opportunity to see the doctor and her team at work. For the doctor, each morning starts in the thyroid clinic. Here patients, who are suffering from a range of thyroid-related diseases, receive medical assistance. At the clinic, blood is taken for analysis with the radioimmunoassay technique (RIA). This highly accurate nuclear medicine method is used to diagnose disease and to check if treatment is effective or not. The unit conducts over 30 000 RIA tests a year. Nuclear medicine uses small amounts of radioactive substances for the diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of many health conditions including cancer, kidney, thyroid and cardiovascular diseases.
For examinations the radiopharmaceuticals – drugs that contain radioactive materials – are usually injected intravenously into a patient and taken up by the organ or part of the body of interest. 
The radioactive emissions from these radiopharmaceuticals are detected by a special device known as a “gamma camera” that produces images of the body parts under investigation, allowing physicians to see what is happening within the patient’s body. With the scan method, doctors can see if treatment is working or not. After reviewing the scan results, the doctor needs to write the reports for the oncologists. The doctor reviews the medical reports of 33 year-old Chalani Jayarathne, who has recovered from thyroid cancer after being given radioactive iodine. The Nuclear Medicine Unit treats over 200 patients a year for thyroid cancer. Recently, to cope with the growing demand for its services, the Nuclear Medicine Unit underwent a major upgrade to bring its technical and safety standards into line with those of a modern nuclear medicine facility. Dr Damayanthi Nanayakkara and her team. Five of the six technologists who currently work at the unit were trained at hospitals and laboratories around the world under the IAEA’s technical cooperation fellowship programme.
Last update: 28 January 2016