Radiation Risks - Referrers

Patients want to know about the risk associated with medical radiation exposures and it is a legal requirement to inform patients of the risk associated with medical radiation prior to exposing them.

Therefore, you need to be able to discuss these risks with patients.

This page contains some tools to help you to discuss radiation risk with your patients.

If you are a referrer, this short video covers some of the basic information to help you communicate radiation risk to your patients.

Take away points

  • The risk associated with radiation is dependent on the dose and patient characteristics.

  • For most diagnostic exams the main risk is cancer induction later in life.

  • Another potential risk is the induction of cataracts.

  • For larger dose exams it is possible that the individual may see skin burns or ulceration. Hospitals should have procedures in place to identify exams where this may occur and to include it in the consent process.

  • Children's risks are increased and consideration should be given to how to present the information in this situation.

  • The risk to the unborn baby should be considered during referral. You should provide information regarding pregnancy status on the request form. Further information can be found here.

  • When communicating risk consider the following prompts:

    • Why you are requesting the exam?

    • What will happen during the exam?

    • What the risks are associated with the exam?

    • Justification for the risks in terms of the benefits of diagnosis.

Start the conversation early

To help you start open discussions with your patients about the correct use of medical imaging we have produced a poster which can be used in waiting rooms that introduces the concept that medical imaging isn't always needed. You can find this poster below:

GP poster.pdf

You can download and print this poster by clicking here.

Example conversation flow

The level of information required should be tailored to the needs of the individual. However, a starting point for the conversation can be found below.

If the patient would like further information regarding the risks you may find the page entitled 'Radiation Risk' targeted at patients useful.

Figure 1. Diagram of the typical levels of risk associated with each type of exam.

The bands in the overview are quite large to take into account variations in procedure, age and sex. Therefore, if you would like to be able to provide more detailed information regarding the numerical risk to patients please click on the button below to launch a web app.