Better Radiation Protection for Patients

Radiation Exposure Growing from CT Scans, X-rays for Varied Reasons

More use of modern medical imaging systems is leading to increased exposure to radiation for patients. Through its health and safety programmes, the IAEA is working to improve radiation protection of patients, and training for medical personnel. (Credit: R. Quevenco/IAEA)

Patients in many countries need better protection from unwanted exposure to radiation during medical exams and treatment, nuclear regulators and health practitioners are warning. In some countries, doses are not well controlled, while in others problems are linked to weak regulatory oversight or medical workers who lack training.

The topic was featured at the IAEA General Conference 29 September at a briefing organized by the French Presidency of the European Union.

Medical care is the largest source of human exposure to ionizing radiation outside of nature. Exposures are increasing through advances in X-ray technologies and medical imaging systems - such as computerized tomography (CT) scans - and the growing complexity of procedures. Each year, for example, ionizing radiation is used worldwide in 4000 million diagnostic procedures, and up to 8 million radiotherapy treatments, notes Ms. Renate Czarwinski, an IAEA expert heading the section on Radiation Safety and Monitoring.

Adding to the picture are reports of accidental, unintended, or unnecessary exposures. In France, for example, health officials found that more than 100 patients were overexposed earlier this year. Elsewhere, oversight is often missing, or medical personnel are not properly trained.

Ms. Beatrice Mwape, a medical imaging specialist at Zambia´s Ministry of Health, told the briefing that the country is not equipped to manage or control radiation exposures because of poor equipment and inadequate dosimetry and radiation protection guidelines and training.

In Kenya, a main problem, and one which the IAEA is examining closely, concerns "second hand" or refurbished imaging equipment that lacks the software to control or manage the patient dose, says Ms. Jeska Wambani, who heads the Radiation Protection Board. She urged the establishment of a regional centre in Africa to support effective dose documentation and the training of medical personnel in best practices.

The briefing was opened by French Ambassador Francois-Xavier Deniau and moderated by Ms. Eliana Amara, Director of the IAEA Division of Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety. It featured presentations by Ms. Czarwinski; Dr. Augustin Janssens of the European Commission, Prof. Michel Bourguignon of France, and Dr. Patrick Smeesters of Belgium.

Background:

The IAEA and partners have placed increasingly emphasis on the radiation protection of patients over the past decade. Partners include the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan-American Health Organization the European Commission, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), and the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), among others.

The IAEA General Conference last year emphasied the importance of progress in the implementation of an International Action Plan for the Radiological Protection of Patients, especially the development of training material for health personnel and guidance documents on radiation protection in newer imaging technology. The Conference revisits the topic this week.

Later this month, Argentina hosts the 12th International Congress of the International Radiation Protection Association.

Last update: 11 November 2014