Why AFM Stopped Using X-ray Shields (and How Your Health Can Benefit)

Oct 14, 2020 | News, Service

Patient gonadal and fetal shielding during X-ray were once considered best practice. But recent research shows they might do more harm than good.

Science is a beautiful thing. We count on it to energize us, propel us, and often times, prove us wrong.

Just like science eventually taught us that the earth was not flat and that radioactive elements were not miracle beauty products, it has recently shown us the ineffectiveness (and potential dangers) behind radiation shielding.

Gonadal and fetal shielding practices (the classic lead aprons you’ve probably experienced at one time or another) were introduced in the 1950s and used as an imaging safety staple – until now. Recently, the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, along with a handful of leading radiology organizations, released new findings around these torso-draping shields – recommending they be “discontinued as routine practice.”

When world-class physicists talk, we’re inclined to pay attention. So, after carefully reviewing this research and seeking guidance from the radiation safety leaders at UCHealth, Associates in Family Medicine has stopped using patient shields during our imaging procedures. Take a look at the FAQs below for the facts that led to our conclusion.

Doesn’t X-ray shielding protect me from harmful rays?

With decades of data at our disposal, we now know that the amount of radiation used for diagnostic X-rays (including mammography and CT scans) presents no measurable danger to reproductive organs or fetuses. And we’ve also seen that these levels of radiation exposure have no links to hereditary disease. In fact, for any part of your body not on the image, the amount of radiation is exceedingly low. And most of your exposure (which is still relatively low) comes from x-rays that scatter inside of you – which are not blocked by shields.

Why was X-ray shielding a best practice for years and now it is not?

Much less radiation is needed to get a good image today than in the past. For example, the amount of radiation used for an X-ray of the pelvis is 95 percent lower than it was in the 1950s! And thanks to technological advancements, we have more effective ways of keeping your radiation exposure low. Our technologists can even control the size of the X-ray field so that only a small portion of your body is exposed to radiation.

Why can X-ray shields be harmful?

The use of shields can often block parts of your body or anatomy that the provider needs to see for an accurate diagnosis. If the procedure has to be repeated, your dose of radiation will be significantly increased. Shielding can also creep into the imaging field of view and cause the image quality to go down. And even worse, it can actually increase the system’s x-ray output and boost the amount of radiation you receive.

Are patient shields still used for certain patients, such as babies, children, and pregnant women?

AFM’s new practices around shielding apply to all of our patients, including adults, infants and children, and women who are pregnant. The latest findings and research on this topic give us full confidence in our updated policies and allow us to improve the safety of our patients of every age and condition

Have more questions about patient shielding and radiation safety? Call to talk to an AFM Technologist 

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