Patient Safety from Radiation Studies under Investigation

Diagnosis of illnesses, using a variety of radioactive scans, may pose dangers to patients. The amount of radiation exposure delivered during PET, CAT scans and MRI’s may pose unknown dangers, prompting investigation of the current guidelines.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has convened in Buenos Aires to determine how risky imaging tests are to patients. According to IAEA's Madan Rehani, a Radiation Safety Specialist, "There has been concern that new technologies are not providing the amount of patient protection that medical professionals had expected. This comes from continued radiation accidents in radiotherapy facilities, and continued reports of unnecessary radiation doses to patients in those diagnostic examinations." Attending the conference in Argentina (Oct 18-19), were radiation protection experts, as well as the manufacturers of diagnostic machines.

One of the goals of the project is to produce a means to record a patient’s lifetime exposure to radiation from imaging tests. The team is trying to devlop a program that involves the use of a voluntary microchip, called the Smart Card. In addition, 82 states have enlisted medical professionals to find ways to reduce the amount of radiation delivered to patients during studies, while maintaining diagnostic quality.

The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (2000), found that patients are exposed to 200 to 500 times the amount of radiation than are medical workers, the amount varying by geographic location.

The team will work together under the guidance of Dr. Rehani to focus on guidelines that will protect patients from unnecessary exposure to radiation, while also looking at norms and security issues related to the use of the Smart Card - something that won’t be available anytime soon. The group will convene in 2009 with their findings. Patient safety will be explored over the next three years.

In the meantime, consider the fact that each year, 4 billion X-rays, 30 million nuclear medicine examinations, and 5 million patients receive radiotherapy. No means of monitoring patient exposure to radiation currently exists.

What the Study Means to You

Speak with your healthcare provider about testing that might put you at risk. Our ability to diagnose serious health problems is vastly improved because of CAT scants, PET scans, and Nuclear Stress testing to detect heart disease, but they should be used only when necessary. Follow your doctor’s recommendations.

As a healthcare consumer, it may not be in your best interest to insist on the latest imaging technology without consideration of risk versus benefit.


When the Ill Need Protection from the Cure