UN experts examine radiation impact from medical imaging

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U.N. tackles radiation risk for patients who have undergone medical imaging. Image Source: National Post  

A United Nations (UN) atomic energy meeting was held this weekend in Buenos Aires, Argentina, drawing together global experts to address safety concerns for patients undergoing medical imaging tests and scans utilizing ionizing radiation.

“There has been concern that new technologies are not providing the amount of patient protection that medical professionals had expected,” according to Madan Rehani, MD, a radiation safety specialist with the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “This comes from continued radiation accidents in radiotherapy facilities, and continued reports of unnecessary radiation doses to patients in those diagnostic examinations.”

The two-day event, which examined the impact of new imaging and radiation therapy technologies, brought together medical and radiation protection experts, along with medical device manufacturers, for the first time to agree on recommendations and guidelines, the IAEA said.

Every year, four billion x-ray exams are conducted for five million people undergoing radiotherapy, but there is no clear record of how much radiation those patients are exposed to, according to the IAEA.

While suggestions on bolstering radiological protection are available for health professionals in IAEA Member States, “in the future we want to have information for patients themselves,” Rehani said.

According to a UN report released in 2000, patients are exposed to approximately 200 times—or even nearly 500 times—more ionizing radiation than medical workers in some nations. In dozens of countries, projects are under way to ascertain how much radiation people are receiving in different imaging procedures.

Rehani is leading a project, still in its infancy, seeking to create a “smart card” with a microchip noting the amount of radiation doses people receive.

“We don’t intend to make it obligatory. It will be a voluntary system,” the IAEA official said.