Posted on Dec 26, 2018, 5 p.m.
Obese patients may be at greater risk of developing cancer due to the higher levels of electromagnetic radiation required to obtain adequate X-ray images, as published in the Journal of Radiological Protection.
X-rays are commonly used around the world for diagnosis of a range of medical conditions, approximately 22.6 million X-ray procedures were carried out between 2015-16 in England alone, according to a study from researchers at the University of Exeter and Musgrove Park Hospital.
The medical imaging procedure is a rather simple, cost effective and non-invasive technique used for diagnostics that does not come without risks, as it involves exposing a part(s) of the body to doses of ionizing radiation that excites body tissue and can potentially give rise to harmful effects.
Risk of damage from X-ray increases with doses of radiation applied, for that reason radiation doses are kept as low as possible to achieve quality imaging. However doses required fluctuate depending on area of the body and size of patient; the further the radiation must travel the higher the dose required. Higher doses of radiation are required for X-ray examination of extremely obese patient as compared to doses required for those of average weight.
This study was conducted to assess the impact of increased X-ray radiation doses on cancer risks, and involved evaluation of over 600 patients who had surgery for weight loss with available history of radiation doses used for X-ray imaging performed between 2007-15; all subjects were severely obese with BMI of up to 50.
Analyses revealed the obese subjects received much higher doses of radiation, and was deemed possible that up to 280 of the cases of cancer amongst the study population could have been related to X-ray radiation; overall risk of cancer caused by the extra radiation was calculated to be 153%, which is more than double for that of those of average weight undergoing X-ray.
Although risk of cancer from X-ray is typically considered to be low, with the increasing amounts of overweight and/or obese patients it is important for radiographers to understand how to minimize radiation doses among this grouping. Researchers suggest that increasing the dose is not the only way to ensure good quality images, yet there are no guidelines currently for radiation dose in obese patients.
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