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Circ Cardiovasc Imaging. 2013 Sep;6(5):683-91. doi: 10.1161/CIRCIMAGING.113.000585. Epub 2013 Jul 19.

Lessons from the Tc-99m shortage: implications of substituting Tl-201 for Tc-99m single-photon emission computed tomography.

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  • 1Division of Cardiology, Department of Medicine, University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Ottawa, Canada.



In 2009, the Chalk River nuclear reactor closed for repairs that led to a critical shortage of technetium-99m (Tc-99m). Several centers used thallium-201 (Tl-201) as an alternative radiotracer for myocardial perfusion imaging. Because Tl-201 is considered by many as a suboptimal radiotracer, we sought to understand the impact of using Tl-201 (during the Tc-99m shortage) on downstream resource utilization.


We performed a retrospective study at the Ottawa Heart Institute of 7402 patients (60% men; mean age, 62.6 ± 11.8 years), patients were referred for myocardial perfusion imaging between May 2008 and January 2011 (PRE_Tc-99m [2938 patients]), during (DURING_Tl-201 [2959 patients]), and after (POST_Tc-99m [1505 patients]) the Tc-99m shortage. Patients were followed for 6 months after their index myocardial perfusion imaging to determine subsequent rates of cardiac catheterization or noninvasive imaging. More downstream testing was seen in the Tl-201 cohort (639 [21.4%] patients) than the Tc-99m cohort (537 [12.1%] patients; P<0.001). After adjustment using propensity scores, differences in downstream referral rates were maintained. The downstream investigations resulted in an estimated increase in per-patient costs ($165.22; 95% confidence interval, 153.00-177.42) in the DURING_Tl-201 cohort compared with the Tc-99m cohort ($90.97; 95% confidence interval, 83.42-98.90; P<0.001). As well, the mean effective radiation dose per-patient was higher in DURING_Tl-201 (23.57 mSv; 95% confidence interval, 23.16-23.96) than in Tc-99m (12.92 mSv; 95% confidence interval, 12.55-13.40; P<0.001).


In this single-center study, the use of Tl-201 during the Tc-99m shortage was associated with an increase in downstream testing, cost, and patient radiation exposure, but these findings may not be generalizable to other centers. Although Tl-201 provided a short-term solution to the unexpected Tc-99m shortage, long-term cost-effective solutions should be areas of future study.


health resources; technetium; thallium

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