Reining in radiation risks

To discuss medical radiation risks is to walk a fine line. As more attention is paid to the topic in popular media, patients could be scared away from needed exams due to the perceived threat of diagnostic radiation.

In the vast majority of cases, the risk of not getting a scan dwarfs the risk of medical radiation-induced cancer (if not, radiology as a specialty wouldn’t exist and neither would Health Imaging), but there are certainly legitimate reasons to tread lightly when wielding radiation as a diagnostic tool. The National Cancer Institute estimated that as many as 2 percent of all cancers diagnosed annually are attributable to medical imaging.

Fortunately, many researchers are hard at work trying to mitigate some of these risks, and we saw several examples of these efforts in this week’s top stories. A team from the University of Michigan Health System looked at whether a reduced-dose CT protocol with model-based iterative reconstruction would be feasible in pediatric patients. Their work, published online Oct. 29 in Radiology, confirmed this technique yields quality images with less noise and superior spatial resolution than adaptive statistical iterative reconstruction or filtered back projection.

Radiotherapy, like diagnostic imaging, can lead to adverse outcomes, but here again we see experts presenting solutions to make this type of treatment more tolerable. An analysis of major coronary events for women receiving radiation therapy for breast cancer, published Oct. 28 in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that the increase in heart disease risk was proportional to the mean dose to the heart, but since contemporary practice uses lower doses, the risk of a major coronary event is approximately 0.3 percent.

This week also featured a story about PET imaging being used to identify brain injury from radiation treatment and an article about the creation of a standard taxonomy designed to improve radiotherapy error classifications, which in turn could guide quality improvement efforts.

Do you have a dose safety success story to share?

Evan Godt
Editor – Health Imaging