The uses of ionizing radiation in medicine are currently undergoing changes due to at least four major influences: (1) the constantly changing public perception of the hazards of radiation, (2) continuing technical innovation and development in equipment, (3) the imposition of diagnosis-related group funding by government health-care funding agencies, and (4) an increase in the average age of the U.S. population. The combined effect of these influences will probably result in a major increase in biplanar fluoroscopic examinations to support nonsurgical approaches such as percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty, percutaneous transluminal neuroembolism, and lithotripsy (the fracturing of kidney stones). As some of these examinations can result in 1.5 h of fluoroscopy, major doses to the patient and to the clinical staff can be expected. In addition, improved diagnostic techniques, such as using positron emission tomography (a combination of biochemistry and positron-emitting isotopes), can be expected to increase the number of small cyclotrons installed in medical centers. Counteracting these increases in radiation exposure is the development of digital radiography, which generally results in a lowering of the dose per diagnostic procedure. In the realm of therapeutic uses, one can expect higher-energy treatment accelerators, more patients being released from the hospital on therapeutic doses of isotopes, and a potential acceptance of neutron therapy as a cancer treatment modality. The latter treatment may take the form of boron capture therapy, 252Cf implant therapy, or external beam therapy using high-energy cyclotrons and the p,Be or the d,Be reaction to create the neutrons. To summarize, the cost of medicine and the fear of cancer may result in an increased use of radiation in the treatment of specific maladies and an increased potential for exposure of the general public to ionizing radiation. In contrast, there is a definite trend toward reducing exposure of the public as a result of general radiographic examinations.
©1988Health Physics Society