How consistent terminology can aid integration of radioligand therapy

7 June 2022

Inconsistent use of terminology presents challenges to building awareness of radioligand therapy and appropriately integrating it into care.


Terminology for radioligand therapy

A number of terms are currently used to describe radioligand therapy, many of which have different meanings.

Radioligand therapy is a  type of therapy that uses radiation to target to cancer cells using specific ligands, which can find these cells because they have a particular surface molecule. Changing the ligand can allow for different types of cancer to be targeted. Different types of radiation can also influence whether the radioligand is used for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes. Combining the diagnostic and treatment processes is known as theranostics (or theragnostics).

Terms referring to targeted radiation use

But many other terms are also used to describe radioligand therapy. These include: molecular radiotherapy, systemic radiation therapy, targeted radiotherapy radiopharmaceutical therapy and targeted radionuclide therapy. These terms refer to radioligand therapy and other pharmaceuticals that use radiation to treat cancer, either by binding to cancer cells or through the accumulation of radiation in specific areas based on bodily functions.

Terms specific to cancer types

Different terms are often used to describe radioligand therapy used to treat different types of cancer:

  • Peptide-receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT) is the treatment for neuroendocrine neoplasms
  • Prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) therapy is the treatment used for prostate cancer
  • Radioimmunotherapy refers to radioligand therapy where the ligand used is an antibody. This term is often used to describe treatment for some types of lymphoma.


Why consistency of terminology matters

Establishing and using consistent terminology is important when integrating innovative therapies, like radioligand therapy, into care. Having clearly defined terms can help to increase awareness and understanding of radioligand therapy among people with cancer, clinicians and policymakers. Consistent terminology can also make it easier for different groups of people to share knowledge, and reduce the risk of confusion or miscommunication.

Radioligand therapy was originally approved only for certain types of neuroendocrine neoplasms and lymphoma, and distinct disease-specific terms were used. As more radioligand therapies are explored and possibly approved for more common types of cancer, it will be beneficial to use consistent terminology so the voices of people with cancer, clinicians and policymakers are unified. This will, in turn, increase awareness and build momentum for enacting policy change to ensure radioligand therapy’s appropriate integration. Ultimately, greater coherence will boost sustainable and timely access to these therapies, enabling them to help the people who could benefit from them most.





Oriana Carswell, Project Officer at The Health Policy Partnership