Every day, ionising radiation is used in medicine for the benefit of millions of people affected by a variety of ailments. In applications such as radiation oncology, diagnostic radiology or nuclear medicine, physicians and professional staff worldwide use radiation to investigate medical conditions, diagnose illnesses and administer life-saving cures to patients.
Yet, if improperly used or administered, radiation can also negatively affect patients´ health. The health and safety of radiation workers and members of the public can also suffer as a result. That is why the accurate measurement of radiation dose, known as dosimetry, is so vital to healthcare and the safe use of nuclear technologies in medicine.
To ensure the optimized use of radiation in medicine, dosimetry standards need to be developed and disseminated alongside codes of practice, or protocols. In dosimetry uniformity is important, especially for collaborative multi-centre studies or clinical trials.
The IAEA plays a unique role in this highly specialised area by providing dosimetry calibration services to Member States through the network of Secondary Standards Dosimetry Laboratories (SSDLs). Verification services are also provided for SSDLs and for end-user institutions engaged in radiotherapy, diagnostic radiology and radiation protection.
"It is estimated that the reference dose in approximately half of the clinical beams and in most of the electron beams used worldwide to treat patients is not checked at all," explains Maurizio Dondi, Acting Director of the IAEA Division of Human Health.
"We at the IAEA are fully aware of the needs in the field and are working to bridge the gap."
As part of the work done in this area, the IAEA is hosting an international conference on dosimetry. The event is an opportunity for hospital practitioners and researchers to meet with scientists from standards laboratories to review the entire dosimetry chain and exchange ideas on new developments in the field.
"To the best of our knowledge, there are no other international meetings focused on dosimetry," says Dondi. "Within the IAEA the mandate of the Division of Human Health is to enhance the capabilities in Member States to address needs related to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of health problems through the applications of nuclear techniques."
Addressing participants to the opening session of the Symposium, Donatella Magliani, Acting Deputy Director General of the IAEA Department of Technical Cooperation, described the Agency´s work in the area in support for Member States.
"Each programme cycle, the IAEA receives large numbers of requests for technical cooperation support in the fields of Dosimetry and Medical Physics - currently, we have 144 active projects that include this field of activity," she said.
The IAEA is also supporting the attendance of 72 participants at the event.
The International Symposium on Standards, Applications and Quality Assurance in Medical Radiation Dosimetry is being held at the IAEA´s headquarters in Vienna, Austria, from 9 to 12 November 2010.
Over 370 delegates from 72 countries and 12 international and professional organizations are attending the four-day event.