Patients are not the only ones at risk during cardiac procedures. Doctors performing heart surgery also face health risks, namely to their eyes.
The IAEA is helping to raise awareness of threats, through training in radiation protection related to medical uses of X-ray imaging systems.
The issue of radiation protection for medical personnel is particularly acute in the case of lengthy angioplasty and other cardiac interventions performed under X-ray fluoroscopic guidance. The procedure can cause extensive radiation exposure to cardiologists that could lead to cataracts, alongside other longer term health risks. Fluoroscopy provides X-ray images of a patient that physicians can view on a display screen or monitor in real time.
The IAEA is helping the medical community to address this problem through a major international initiative aimed at training cardiologists and other medical professionals in radiation protection. This September in Latin America, the IAEA is organizing a study to test the eyes of interventional cardiologists participating in a regional medical conference. The Cardiology Conference is organized by the Latin American Society of Interventional Cardiologists (SOLACI) in Bogota, Colombia.
The study is being led by a team of experts, including Prof. Eliseo Vano, Radiology Department of the Complutense University of Madrid; Prof. Norman Kleiman, Columbia University, New York; local ophthalmologists from Bogota; and Mr. Raul Ramirez of the IAEA Department of Technical Cooperation. The initiative is part of an International Action Plan on the radiological protection of patients spearheaded by the IAEA.
"In the meeting of Latin American cardiologists, we will offer participants the possibility to have their eye tested for early changes of radiation effect that may lead to cataract in future years," says Professor Eliseo Vano. "This will allow us to assess retrospectively what radiation dose these cardiologists received, and then correlate the data with changes in their lens. Hopefully, this will help them protect themselves better in the future and reduce further radiation in their eyes while maintaining the clinical load."
The IAEA´s Dr. Madan Rehani, a Radiation Safety Specialist, underscores the importance and timeliness of raising awareness of the issue within the medical community. Proper use of tools for radiation protection - like protective screens or barriers - can prevent problems.
"We started training courses for cardiologists in 2004 and so far cardiologists from more than 50 countries have been trained in radiation protection," he says. In addition, training material, on computer diskette and in printed publications, is being distributed via the IAEA.org website pages on the radiation protection of patients.
As part of additional outreach, Dr. Rehani says the IAEA is working with professional societies of cardiologists in many parts of the world. A network of Asian cardiologists in radiation protection has been created, and SOLACI has expressed interest in incorporating radiation protection lectures in their conferences.
The September meeting will take place in Bogota, Colombia, from 24-26 September, under the leadership of Dr. Dario Echeverri, Vice-President of SOLACI.