Walls of lead help fight cancer

Published on June 28th, 2012 by Diana Duren.

Beneath the nature-themed walls in room 6742 on the sixth floor of the expansion space at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is a surprise: 27,000 pounds of lead bricks that fully encase the room.

This lead-lined room is a unique feature of the expansion space that will be used for a pioneering targeted radiation therapy for patients with neuroblastoma, a malignant tumor that develops from nerve tissue, and other cancers.

Fewer than 10 lead rooms exist in the United States, and about six of them are at children’s hospitals. The room is used when other cancer-fighting therapies have failed for patients.

Inside the room, the young patients receive an intravenous dose of a meta-iodobenzylguanidine (MIBG), an antibody that is tagged to radioactive iodine. Administration of the drug takes an hour and a half, but the child is radioactive for about four days and remains in the room during that time with limited contact. Parents act as the primary caregivers, outfitted in hospital clothing to help protect against too much radiation. The parents stay in an anteroom for protection from radiation and have two-way cameras so they can interact with the child. Nurses go in only briefly to avoid overexposure from caring for multiple patients.