Radiologists Not at Elevated Risk of Radiation-related Illness

Radiologists who began practicing after 1940 do not have a higher risk of developing radiation-related illnesses.

Radiologists do not have a higher risk of developing radiation-related illnesses as a result of their occupation, according to a study published in Radiology.

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, and the FDA Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health in White Oak Campus in Silver Spring, MD, compared mortality rates from all causes, specific causes, total cancers, and specific cancers to assess whether differences between 43,763 radiologists (20% women) and 64,990 psychiatrists (27% women) are consistent with known risks of radiation exposure and the changes in radiation exposure to radiologists over time.

The subjects graduated from medical school between 1916 and 2006; psychiatrists were chosen as the control group because they had the lowest likelihood of work-related radiation exposure. The follow-up period was from 1979 to 2008, and only included deaths that occurred before age 85. In general, radiologists were younger than the psychiatrists, with most of the radiologists graduating from medical school in 1960 or later. Some in the psychiatrist group graduated as early as 1916.

The results showed that 4,260 male and 208 female radiologists died during the follow-up period. The cause of death was not ascertained for 133 of the males (3%). A total of 7,815 male and 524 female psychiatrists died during the follow-up period; 337 of the male psychiatrists’ (4%) causes of death were not ascertained. The researchers continued the analysis with only the male subjects, given the small number of female radiologists in the group.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"50669","attributes":{"alt":"Martha Linet, MD","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_1818206221344","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"6202","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"float: right;","title":"Martha Linet, MD","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

While there was an increased death rate among radiologists due to acute myeloid leukemia or myelodysplastic syndrome, these were among subjects who graduated from medical school before 1940, likely related to the occupational exposure to radiation at that time. The researchers also found increased death rates in this older group from melanoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), and cerebrovascular disease.

“Our most important finding is that radiologists have lower death rates from all causes of death combined, compared to psychiatrists, and had similar risks of cancer deaths overall,” coauthor Martha Linet, MD, senior investigator at the NCI Radiation Epidemiology Branch, said in a release. “Most of the findings of increased risk were in the earlier radiologists. We do feel there is evidence that decreases in dose in the United States and other countries seem to have paid off, reducing risks in recent graduates.”