Radiation biology for pediatric radiologists
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The biological effects of radiation result primarily from damage to DNA. There are three effects of concern to the radiologist that determine the need for radiation protection and the dose principle of ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable). (1) Heritable effects. These were thought to be most important in the 1950s, but concern has declined in recent years. The current ICRP risk estimate is very small at 0.2%/Sv. (2) Effects on the developing embryo and fetus include weight retardation, congenital anomalies, microcephaly and mental retardation. During the sensitive period of 8 to 15 weeks of gestation, the risk estimate for mental retardation is very high at 40%/Sv, but because it is a deterministic effect, there is likely to be a threshold of about 200 mSv. (3) Carcinogenesis is considered to be the most important consequence of low doses of radiation, with a risk of fatal cancer of about 5%/Sv, and is therefore of most concern in radiology. Our knowledge of radiation carcinogenesis comes principally from the 60-year study of the A-bomb survivors. The use of radiation for diagnostic purposes has increased dramatically in recent years. The annual collective population dose has increased by 750% since 1980 to 930,000 person Sv. One of the principal reasons is the burgeoning use of CT scans. In 2006, more than 60 million CT scans were performed in the U.S., with about 6 million of them in children. As a rule of thumb, an abdominal CT scan in a 1-year-old child results in a life-time mortality risk of about one in a thousand. While the risk to the individual is small and acceptable when the scan is clinically justified, even a small risk when multiplied by an increasingly large number is likely to produce a significant public health concern. It is for this reason that every effort should be made to reduce the doses associated with procedures such as CT scans, particularly in children, in the spirit of ALARA.
KeywordsRadiation carcinogenesis Heritable effects Embryo Fetus
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