by Michael Jubinville, MPH
Radioimmunotherapy (RIT) is a combination of radiation therapy and immunotherapy. Radiation therapy uses specific forms of radiation to kill or shrink cancer cells. Immunotherapy uses laboratory-made monoclonal antibodies to target and kill cancer cells. RIT has the benefits of immunotherapy the ability to deliver a high dose of radiation directly to cancer cells.
Reasons for Procedure
Currently, RIT is used to treat lymphomas, but it may be used to treat other types of cancer in the future.
RIT may be used because it does more harm to cancer cells since the radiation is delivered directly to the cells. The specific targeting also means less damage to healthy cells than other methods like radiation or chemotherapy. It is associated with faster recovery and fewer side effects than other methods
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Talk to your doctor if you take any medications, herbs, or supplements. You may need to stop taking certain medications before the procedure.
RIT is not given to women may be or are pregnant, or breastfeeding. A pregnancy test may be given before treatment.
You may be given:
RIT does not require anesthesia.
Description of the Procedure
There are several steps to RIT. Part of the process is to determine if you are a good candidate for the treatment.
An IV will be placed that allows the medication to pass directly into the bloodstream. A monoclonal antibody without radioactive material will be delivered first. This antibody will connect to a specific type of immune cell to protect these healthy cells from the radiation medication. Next, a low dose of radioactive material is infused through the IV. The infusion is delivered slowly over a period of time.
The following week, imaging tests will be done to see where the radioactive material traveled in the body. If the tests determine that RIT has targeted the correct area the next part of the treatment will begin. The monoclonal antibodies with a higher dose of radioactive material will be given by IV in multiple courses in the following weeks.
How Long Will It Take?
The infusion can take up to 2 hours. Infusions are done more than once over the course of 1-3 weeks.
Will It Hurt?
You may feel a pinch when the needle is inserted. There may be a cold sensation when the radioactive material is infused into the vein.
RIT works slowly. It will take several months for cancer cells to die and the tumor to shrink. During this time, you will have regular follow-up visits for blood and imaging tests. These tests will monitor the effectiveness of RIT.
Radioactive material is gradually flushed out with urine. The radioactive ingredient in the body can expose others to radiation. Home care instructions will include precautions when other people are near and for handling bodily waste that may have radioactive material.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if any of these occur:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Cancer Society
Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America
Canadian Association of Radiologists
Canadian Cancer Society
Immunotherapy. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society website. Available at:
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Accessed January 28, 2021.
Radioimmunotherapy (RIT). Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=radio-immuno. Accessed January 28, 2021.
Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP