Obese patients undergoing x-rays have a higher cancer risk, but risk still low

The higher dose of radiation required to x-ray extremely obese patients increases those patients’ risk of cancer, according to new research published in the Journal of Radiological Protection. The chances of getting cancer due to undergoing an x-ray are still quite low, the authors added.

For the study, researchers from the University of Exeter and Musgrove Park Hospital, both in the U.K., analyzed data from more than 600 patients who underwent surgery to lose weight between 2007 and 2015. Patients were “severely obese and nearly twice the weight they should be for their height.” The authors found that the higher radiation dose more than doubled the overall risk of cancer for these patients, though the risk was still very low. From 2015 to 2016, for instance, 22.6 million x-rays occurred and as many as 280 cancers “may have been related” to the radiation dose .

“X-rays are an extremely important diagnostic tool, and radiographers do their utmost to minimize the risk to patients,” co-author Karen Knapp, associate professor of musculoskeletal imaging at the University of Exeter, said in a prepared statement. “However, our findings highlight the implications of increased radiation doses in severely obese patients. Although the risk of cancer from X-ray is very low, we  urgently need more research in patients who are overweight and obese, so we can understand how to minimize doses in this group and feed into far more robust guidelines around radiation, in turn to minimize that risk.”

“As a researcher and a radiographer, I believe these radiation doses figures are only to be expected due to the lack of guidelines to aid imaging this group of patients,” lead author Saeed Al-Qahtani, of the University of Exeter, said in the same statement.