In the coming year, lead aprons for x-rays may become a thing of the past. Radiologists and medical physicists say the shielding tool may not be helping as we think. They claim it provides no benefit and “might even inadvertently expose people to higher radiation levels.”
Do We Need Lead Aprons?
Many hospitals are doing away with the decades-old belief of needing to cover reproductive organs and fetuses. Medical experts came to the conclusion that it doesn’t help and could instead increase radiation exposure. Further, lead aprons can impair the quality of diagnostic tests. While changing this procedure will be a slow process, experts insist it may be beneficial not to shield patients. There is a recurring fear of radiation among patients, so losing the shield will raise concerns. Perhaps the most noticeable change will be at your dentist’s office, as most x-rays take place here. Dentists have yet to get behind the movement, but further research will be the deciding factor there. In place since the 1950s, this rule will be hard to change. However, we are constantly changing imagining technology. With this comes a better understanding of radiation effects. As technology evolves, changes in practice will naturally occur.
Dark Side to the Shield
Being difficult to position, the aprons regularly miss the area they aim to protect. Further, they can cover areas of the body that need to be seen. Due to this, doctors will have to continue scanning until they can find it, causing further exposure to radiation. With a lead shield, the x-ray machine wants to force itself to “see through” the lead in order to scan. This forced radiation will also cause more exposure. Aside from this, the greatest radiation effect is known as “scatter.” With scatter, radiation ricochets inside the body, disregarding the lead, and ends up in body tissue. Back in April 2019, medical experts, including the FDA, officially recommended removing lead aprons from standard x-ray procedures. The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements is also expected to support this recommendation soon. Close to a dozen U.S. hospitals have already made the change, others are only just beginning to consider the idea.
One hospital in Chicago has even begun a campaign to educate its staff on why giving up the lead shield is beneficial. It plans to drop the aprons in the spring, but the hospital wants its staff and patients to be comfortable first. There has been some push-back, of course. On the other side of Chicago, one hospital claims its staff it too well trained for lead to be a problem. They also worry about violating state regulations. Now, many states are revising their regulations to make it legal to skip the apron altogether. Most establishments want patients to know they will still have the option of using an apron. One radiologist stated, “I don’t think any of us are advocating to never use it.” While dental offices are hardly in on the conversation currently, physicists insist they need to be in on the idea the most. Experts point out that almost 50 million more x-rays were taken in dental offices than in medical.
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