March 06, 2019

AAPM-ACR Statement on JAMA Article on Radioactive Material in Cremated Patients

A recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) publication1, Yu et al, which described the cremation of patient remains containing a radioactive material, garnered considerable media attention and may have alarmed some members of the general public.

The American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) and the American College of Radiology (ACR) would like to share the following key points to put the topic into better perspective:

  • Radioactive materials are used routinely in medical practice to improve human health. 
  • The risk of harm to the crematorium operator is so small that it cannot be measured.
  • Consensus guidelines from national (CDC and DOE) and international radiation protection and public health organizations provide clear guidance on how to identify radioactivity in patient remains and appropriately deal with the body of the decedent.
  • Healthcare providers who administer radioactive material must have a designated Radiation Safety Officer whose credentials meet criteria established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (A and B), the federal agency that regulates the use of radioactive materials. These individuals are often certified medical physicists or health physicists.
  • The low-cost best practice of installing a simple radiation detector in hospital morgues, funeral homes and crematoriums would quickly alert staff to the presence of radioactivity. A certified medical physicist or health physicist has the expertise to determine when the measured radiation levels will have decreased to a level where it is safe to release the body to coroners, medical examiners, or mortuary services.

For any questions or interviews, please contact:

Cynthia H. McCollough, PhD, FAAPM, FACR, FAIMBE
President – American Association of Physicists in Medicine

Brooks-Hollern Professor
Professor of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering
Director, CT Clinical Innovation Center and X-ray Imaging Core
Department of Radiology, Mayo Clinic
Mobile: (507) 254-6888

Mahadevappa Mahesh, MS, PhD, FAAPM, FACR, FACMP.
Chair – Commission on Medical Physics – American College of Radiology

Professor of Radiology and Cardiology
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Chief Physicist - Johns Hopkins Hospital
Mobile: (410) 404-8742
Twitter: @mmahesh1

1Yu NY, Rule WG, Sio TT, Ashman JB, Nelson KL. Radiation Contamination Following Cremation of a Deceased Patient Treated with a Radiopharmaceutical. JAMA. 2019;321(8):803-804.