Radiologists may face greater exposure than first thought: 3 ways to reduce occupational dose

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Researchers from the University of Belgrade suggested an urgent need for improved radiation safety and training in wake of studies indicating that half of interventional radiologists have the beginnings of cataracts.  

In 2016, no imaging trend is larger than patient dose reduction. While the '00s were about increasing resolution and sensitivity, the last six years have seen a marked shift towards “image gently” philosophies. This intense focus on patient dose means that concern for occupational exposure can sometimes fall by the wayside, but the negative health effects are no small matter. The eye’s lenses are especially susceptible to the effects of radiation, and even low doses over time can cause the build-up of cataracts.

This runs counter to the previous school of thought on eye dosage, exemplified by the 2011 reduction of annual allowable dose. The International Commission on Radiological Protection reevaluated the dose limit for the eye, based on new findings that lens opacities may occur within a few years, cutting the annual limit from 150 mSv to just 20 mSv. However, studies measuring lens opacity in radiologists and staff have found alarmingly high numbers, indicating a slow adoption of the more stringent regulation.

The highest risks for occupational exposure occur in interventional radiology, according to a study released in American Journal of Roentgenology in March. Post-capsular opacities, a condition that can lead to cataracts, were found in 50 percent of the interventional radiologists and 41 percent of nurses in the studya staggering number. However, proper utilization of safety equipment and monitoring the dosage of staff can cut down on occupational irradiation—and hopefully prevent long-term negative consequences. 

Here’s three ways to reduce eye lens dosage for radiologists and staff:

  1. Use dedicated eye lens dosimeters, facing the radiation source, in contact with the skin and positioned as close as possible to the eye.
  2. If a dedicated eye dosimeter is impractical, a trunk or thyroid dosimeter can be used and the dose estimated with a correction factor of 0.75. However, this method is fairly uncertain and should not be used if employees are nearing dose limits.
  3. Using well-fitting lead glasses and ceiling-suspended protective screens to further reduce dose to radiologists and staff.