POISONOUS, rare, expensive, and has a strange name. Most of all, it is very effective in detecting cancerous tumors.

The name is Gadolinium, a silvery-white metal, called “gad” by surgeons and radiologists. It is increasingly being used in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

MRI uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to diagnose medical conditions like breast cancer, brain tumor, heart disease, and joint disorders.

When cooled, Gadolinium becomes highly ferromagnetic or very attractive to magnetic fields. It becomes a very good contrast agent in MRI.

Scientists say that Gadolinium is specially useful for diagnosing abnormal areas, which cannot be reached by standard MRI.

Gadolinium is non-radioactive and colorless. When injected into a vein, it accumulates in abnormal tissue, setting itself apart from the normal tissue. Appearing bright on the medical scan image, it aids in detecting areas for surgeons to operate. Gadolinium exits the body through the kidneys.

Rene Tayar, MRI spokesperson of the Royal College of Radiologists in London said that Gadolinium is also useful for scanning tumors in the lymph glands, thus making it possible to detect cancer in the pelvis. It also helps detect tumors in the brain and liver.

Breast cancer diagnosis is also boosted by Gadolinium-enhanced MRI scanning, for it can help doctors distinguish fatty and glandular breast tissue in certain patients, such as those with dense breasts, those who have undergone hormone replacement therapy and breast reconstruction with implants.

Since Gadolinium is poisonous, it is neutralized through chelation, a process of removing toxic components before being used. It has been declared safe for use in MRI by the US Food and Drugs Administration in 1988.

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Hard lessons

Gadolinium(Gd) is found at the bottom of the periodic table, with an atomic number of 64 and a molecular weight of 157.25 grams. Gadolinium was first discovered in 1880 and was used as control rods in nuclear reactors. Stephen Roy O. Chua-Rojas

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