Patient safety: reducing radiation exposure risks from CT scans and X-rays

A new $1.2 million study led by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute seeks to develop software for calculating and tracking a patient's radiation exposure from diagnostic X-ray CT scans.

Funded by the US Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), the software aims to arm radiologists, medical physicists,  and patients with more accurate data for making informed decisions about the potential risks and benefits of CT scan procedures.

This plays into a larger goal of governmental agencies and hospitals of reducing the number of unnecessary CT scans performed in the United States and around the world, said project leader Rensselaer Professor X. George Xu.

''Radiation exposure from imaging procedures such as CT scans has elevated to an alarming level in the United States and elsewhere in recent years,'' said Xu, a nuclear engineering professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering at Rensselaer. ''The radiation exposure from a single CT scan is still relatively small when compared with the clinical benefit of the procedure, but patients often receive multiple scans during the course of their diagnostic or therapeutic procedure. Our new software should help to record the exposures more accurately and more consistently.''

A recent report by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP), of which Xu is a member, details how the US population is now exposed to seven times more radiation every year from medical imaging exams than it was in 1980. While CT scans only account for 10 percent of diagnostic radiological exams, the procedure contributes disproportionately - about 67 percent - to the national collective medical radiation exposure.

To help mitigate this risk, several national and international bodies have called for the establishment of a centralized, patient-specific ''dose registry'' system. Such a system would track over time the amount of CT scans a patient undergoes, and the radiation exposure resulting from those procedures. However, current software packages for tracking CT scan radiation exposure have fundamental imitations and are insufficient for such a critical task, Xu said.