By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY
Most patients know what to expect when they go to the dentist, the doctor or the hospital for an X-ray.
As part of the process, a heavy apron or other type of lead shield is placed over vital organs to protect them from radiation.
But thanks to new recommendations and scientific evidence, that long-held practice is starting to change.
Next week, St. Charles will no longer shield patients undergoing diagnostic radiology exams.
“There was a concern that if we irradiated a patient’s reproductive organs that down the road they might have a child that had a deformity or something like that, but there’s never been any evidence of this in any studies,” said Mike Timmerman, Radiation Safety Officer for St. Charles Health System.
In January, the Oregon Health Authority reversed an Oregon Administrative Rule that required shielding of reproductive organs for patients undergoing diagnostic radiology tests.
“Just recently, the state of Oregon said, ‘We are not going to require shielding anymore,’” said Rob Kennard, director of Radiology for St. Charles Health System.
The reason – scientists now believe the shield can interfere with the image quality results, which can lead to a need for a second X-ray exam resulting in more radiation exposure. Second X-rays take more of the patient’s time and and increase expenses.
Timmerman said all X-ray exams result in some scatter of radiation throughout the body. He says the lead aprons patients wore as shielding didn’t do anything to prevent that scatter dose.
Instead of shielding, radiologists now focus on reducing a patient’s lifetime exposure to radiation. They do so through improvements in x-ray technology and electronic sharing of test results. Such procedures reduce the need for patients to undergo repeat x-ray examinations.
“Mainly we’re investing in new technologies that are lower dose,” Timmerman said. “We are looking at lower dose protocols for pediatric patients for example. Pregnant patients we may consider another study if it’s viable but really we’ve found that with the small amounts of radiation from medical imaging the shielding has the capacity to do more harm than good.”
As soon as next week, patients will no longer be shielded during X-ray examinations at St. Charles.
Patients with questions and concerns about the change can ask the technologist who conducts the exam. There will be pamphlets and brochures available as well.
Not all medical offices are doing away with lead aprons.
Some dentist offices we spoke with said they’ll continue using lead shielding during oral x-rays to protect patients’ thyroids, especially children.