Addressing the radiation-related cancer risk of obese patients

The solution is to reduce dose, but it's not that simple

January 10, 2019
A recent U.K. study revealed that the radiation-related cancer risk for obese patients is more than double the risk for normal weight patients. What can be done about it?

“The clinicians need to know the risk of each procedure so they can weigh the benefits against the risk when making an X-ray procedure request,” Saeed Al-Qahtani, lead author of the study, told HCB News.

The research group from the University of Exeter and Musgrove Park Hospital in England looked at 630 severely obese patients with available records of radiation dose from X-ray exams performed between 2007 an 2015. They found that their overall risk of cancer caused by the extra radiation was 153 percent higher than normal weight patients.

The 2016 Health Survey for England found that 26.2 percent of adults in the region are obese and 35.2 percent are considered overweight. Yet there are currently no guidelines for how to reduce radiation dose in obese patients.

Even though the risk of cancer from X-ray is very low, the researchers noted this is still an important finding that needs to be addressed.

Al-Qahtani believes that the solution is to reduce the radiation dose, but cautioned that doing so is not an easy task. More research on dose optimization is needed in order to help radiographers choose the best exposure factors to get the best image quality with the lowest radiation dose.

He and his team have already started to investigate this, but have run into problems because there is a shortage of phantoms that model obese patients. Because of that, they took matters into their own hands and developed phantoms for this patient population.

“We are working on this in order to come up with a prediction model that can help the radiographer chose the best factors based on patient size,” Al-Qahtani concluded.

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