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Use of X-rays in patients, is it safe?

Posted by Xanit Internacional Xanit Internacional | Posted in Various | Posted on 14-11-2018



Many of us would like to know what happens when we undergo a diagnostic test, particularly tests with equipment emitting X-rays or radioactive isotopes in nuclear medicine. In these cases, the question arises whether they pose a risk to our health and whether they are indispensable.

Today, Dr Manzano, Head of the Medical Physics and Radiological Protection Department at Vithas Xanit International Hospital, tells us how safe is the use of X-rays and isotopes in Nuclear Medicine and what progress we are making regarding the information available to the patient.

How safe are X-rays?

Almost everything we do in our day to day life carries some degree of probability of complication, contemplated as risks of the kind, one in a thousand or one in a million.

An activity should be considered safe when the risk of an adverse effect occurring is less than one for every million times repeated: that is, what probability would it be if we repeated the same activity thousands or millions of times.

We are all fully aware of the fact that since its discovery, X-rays were one of the most significant advances of humanity, and they have allowed the medicine to understand how diseases occur within the human body without having to cut it open, saving the lives of millions of people. The X-ray machine was chosen as the most important scientific invention in the world, surpassing even penicillin (London Science Museum Survey).

For most studies, the dose received may be the same as that received by any person NOT subjected to an X-ray test in a year. The more complex and time-consuming studies can be equivalent to several years of natural radiation, still being at low risk, between one in hundred thousand and one in ten thousand.

As for the risk of developing some malignant disease, we need to know that the risk in chest or limb studies is considered minimal, less than one in a million. We can also make a comparison by saying that a test of these characteristics is equivalent to the natural radiation which we receive in the course of a few days.

We have to understand that the X-ray guarantees us the more precise diagnosis, which in return gives more opportunities to receive a correct treatment for a disease or ailment in question.

Therefore, we can conclude that X-rays are quite safe for the patient and that the benefits of any radiological study will always exceed the risk of these small doses of radiation: this is the principle of justification laid down in the legislation and on which any diagnostic test should be based.

What changes will occur concerning the information that will be offered to the patient?

There is already a draft royal decree on medical ionising radiation planned for this year. The text updates the national legislation on Directive 2013/59/Euratom replacing Royal Decree 815/2001 of 13 July concerning the use of ionising radiation in the field of medicine.

It proposes stricter requirements regarding the information to be provided to patients, the recording and reporting of doses of medical-radiological procedures, the use of reference levels for diagnosis and the availability of dose indicator devices.

With all this mentioned, we can see that we are already making significant progress for the patients of the 21st century, who will be progressively more informed about the treatments and be more aware of their environment.  Such a sign of progress implies advances when it comes to diagnosis, as well as more information about the medical acts and the risks to which we may be exposed.

An important fact when it comes to providing information is that it must be written in a clear and understandable manner, not causing further doubts and queries. Therefore, it would be good if we all knew something about the radiation and its use, the advances it has made in medical technology and its benefits that millions of people worldwide have enjoyed.