Direct Cremate

What Cancer Patients Should Know About Cremation

Cancer treatments can be life saving, but they can also be dangerous for crematorium operators. Here’s what cancer patients should know about cremation.
What Cancer Patients Should Know About Cremation
Senior woman with cancer sitting on bed in hospital.

When a person receives a cancer diagnosis they have to come to terms with mortality. Suddenly, the possibility of death is constantly with you, looming like a ticking clock that gets closer with each second that passes. 

Today, getting cancer isn’t necessarily a death sentence, but the thought is inescapable. It’s the type of life event that prompts people to get serious about writing wills and making funeral arrangements in advance even if the prognosis is good. 

Many cancer patients and survivors are like the majority of Americans that now choose cremation over burial. But there is one important factor that a cancer patient or survivor has to consider before they are cremated.

Some Cancer Treatments Can Affect Cremation

Battling cancer isn’t easy. The treatments kill cancer, but they can be hard on the system and may even involve the use of toxic substances. This is the case with radiation therapies. 

Radiation therapy involves administering high doses of radiation, a form of energy that’s emitted as electromagnetic waves that can cause ionization. The radiation is able to kill cancer cells or damage their DNA so they can’t replicate. It takes weeks of therapy for cancer cells to die from the DNA damage. Cancer cells will continue to die off and be removed from the body weeks or even months after treatment. That means radiation can remain in the body long after the radiation therapy ends. It’s the last fact that concerns funeral service providers. 

Any treatments that involve radiation could potentially cause a contamination problem if a person is cremated. This includes:

  • External beam radiation therapy
  • Radiopharmaceuticals that are taken intravenously
  • Radiation oncology implants

Typically, cremation isn’t an option if the deceased was currently undergoing radiation therapy. There’s one known instance of a cremation being mistakenly performed on a person who had received radiation therapy just days before. When the crematorium was inspected traces of radiation were found in the cremation chamber and bone crusher. The levels were below what the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has deemed acceptably safe, but it was proof that cremation within days of radiation therapy can cause contamination of the facility and possibly the cremains. 

How Long After Radiation Therapy is Cremation Safe

As cremation becomes more common, understanding how cancer therapies could impact the crematorium, operators and cremains becomes more important. The obvious danger is performing a cremation when radioactive material is still in the body. That would mean extreme precaution should be taken if a person who was receiving radiation treatments wished to be cremated.

How long after radiation treatment cremation is considered safe depends on the type of therapy that was received. Radiopharmaceuticals usually clear a person’s system in 12 days. However, radiation oncology implants are meant to break down over an extended period of time. It can take months for the implant to degrade to a safe level. Typically, medical devices are removed before cremation, but the small size makes radiation oncology implants virtually impossible for a cremation operator to remove.

While it should be perfectly safe and legal to perform a cremation after these time periods have passed, experts agree that two years after radiation treatment no added precautions are needed at all. 

Direct Cremate can help cancer patients and cancer survivors that want to take control of their funeral arrangements. Our simplified cremation services are affordable and won’t add to the stress of the situation. Everything that’s needed for the cremation is included with no surprise upcharges or fees. 

The Direct Cremate team can be contacted 24 hours a day by phone or text.