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Strengthening the Protection of Patients who Need Multiple Imaging Exams

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A doctor reviewing CT scan images at Vienna General Hospital in Austria. (Photo: L. Dojcanova/IAEA)

Experts at a recent IAEA meeting proposed measures to ensure medical benefits always exceed risks for patients who need frequent radiological imaging exams for diagnosing and monitoring their diseases. New data presented at the meeting based on 2.5 million patients in 15 countries showed that more than 1% of patients receive cumulative doses above 100 mSv from multiple exams in their lifetime. This is significantly higher than previously thought. Receiving radiation in significant doses increases the risk of cancer later in life.

Around 50 experts from 26 countries and nine international organisations and professional and industrial bodies met at the IAEA in Vienna from 4 to 6 March to explore the issue. New data on exposure has surfaced thanks to the introduction of automatic exposure tracking systems in many hospitals in recent years.

“The medical community should find a way to improve safety of patients who need recurrent imaging exams, while not limiting their medical benefits,” said Madan M. Rehani, Director of Global Outreach for Radiation Protection at the Massachusetts General Hospital in the United States, who presented some of the new data.

Medical imaging like computed tomography (CT), X-rays and interventional procedures have provided immense medical benefits in diagnosis and follow-up of diseases to better manage health conditions of millions of patients worldwide. A patient can get exposed to 100 mSv from 10-12 CT exams, which is required in different chronic conditions or malignant diseases or when treatment requires frequent follow-up examinations.

Participants at the meeting agreed that several steps could be taken to improve protection of patients who need frequent imaging exams:

  • CT scanners capable of achieving adequate image quality at sub-mSv radiation dose.
  • Physicians need to ensure the appropriate use of imaging exams when dealing with diseases that require frequent tests.
  • Strengthen guidelines by professional medical bodies for those treating patients who require frequent imaging studies.
  • Integrated technological solutions for monitoring patient exposure data within the electronic healthcare records.
  • Concrete radiation protection recommendations on how to avoid high level of exposures without curtailing medical benefits.

“The new data show that all stakeholders must come together to find suitable strategies and solutions with focus on radiation protection of this specific group of patients,” Jenia Vassileva, IAEA Radiation Protection Specialist. “The IAEA will continue coordinating international efforts by engaging with the medical industry, by organizing multi-stakeholder’s meetings and by taking action to raise awareness of and educate healthcare providers and patients.”

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