Radiologic technologists more exposed to cataracts risk from nuclear medicine

As the number of nuclear medicine (NM) procedures performed in the U.S. gradually increases, the procedure used to assess organ function and treat disease through ionizing radiation continues to harm and damage the eyes of radiologic technicians performing it.

Radiologic technologists who have performed NM procedures at least once during their career have an increased risk of developing a cataract, according to a new study published by Radiology.

“In contrast to professionals who work with standard radiologic procedures, those who work with NM procedures cannot avoid being in close contact with radioactive pharmaceuticals when they prepare and/or administer injections and during the imaging process,” said lead author of the study Marie-Odile Bernier, MD, PhD.

From 2003 to 2006 and 2012 to 2013, approximately 42,545 U.S. radiologic technologists who had been certified for at least 2 years from 1926 to 1982 completed administered questionnaires. The technologists were asked about their work histories, eye health histories and any radiation protection practices done. Also included were questions regarding demographic characteristics, lifestyle, personal diagnostic and therapeutic medical procedures performed, and age at the time of cataract diagnosis or surgery. A total of four surveys were administered to all qualifying participants.

Questionnaire results broken down

Overall, of the 42,545 technologists who qualified and answered the questionnaire:

  • 80 percent were women, 96 percent were white and 86 percent had completed more than 12 years of education;
  • 96 percent reported having performed a radiographic procedure at least once during their career, 25 percent performed a fluoroscopically guided interventional radiology procedure at least once;
  • 7,137 self-reported diagnoses of cataracts (2,458 of these diagnoses were in technologists who reported performing an NM procedure at least once);
  • 30 percent of the technologists reported having worked at least once a week with NM procedures;
  • A modest increase in the risk of developing a cataract was apparent for technologists who had ever performed diagnostic NM procedures as compared with those who had never performed them;
  • Risks were higher for technologists who first performed diagnostic NM procedures in the 1980s than for those who started performing these procedures in the 1950s;
  • Researchers also noted that technologists who have performed NM work from 2000 onward might have been exposed to higher higher-radiation-dose procedures such as PET and cardiac scintigraphy were increasing, which contribute to higher cumulative doses to the eyes.

 “We found an increased risk of cataract in a population of medical workers who performed NM procedures and who were followed up from the time of completion of the third cohort survey in the years 2003– 2005 to the time of completion of the fourth survey in the years 2012–2013,” concluded Bernier. “Increased risks were observed in those technologists who conducted diagnostic and therapeutic NM procedures, as compared with those who did not perform NM procedures.”

The cohort study was a conducted by members of the National Cancer Institute, the University of Minnesota and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.