Communicating Potential Radiation-Induced Cancer Risks From Medical Imaging Directly to Patients

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2015 Nov;205(5):962-70. doi: 10.2214/AJR.15.15057. Epub 2015 Aug 21.


Objective: Over the past decade, efforts have increasingly been made to decrease radiation dose from medical imaging. However, there remain varied opinions about whether, for whom, by whom, and how these potential risks should be discussed with patients. We aimed to provide a review of the literature regarding awareness and communication of potential radiation-induced cancer risks from medical imaging procedures in hopes of providing guidance for communicating these potential risks with patients.

Materials and methods: We performed a systematic literature review on the topics of radiation dose and radiation-induced cancer risk awareness, informed consent regarding radiation dose, and communication of radiation-induced cancer risks with patients undergoing medical imaging. We included original research articles from North America and Europe published between 1995 and 2014.

Results: From more than 1200 identified references, a total of 22 original research articles met our inclusion criteria. Overall, we found that there is insufficient knowledge regarding radiation-induced cancer risks and the magnitude of radiation dose associated with CT examinations among patients and physicians. Moreover, there is minimal sharing of information before nonacute imaging studies between patients and physicians about potential long-term radiation risks.

Conclusion: Despite growing concerns regarding medical radiation exposure, there is still limited awareness of radiation-induced cancer risks among patients and physicians. There is also no consensus regarding who should provide patients with relevant information, as well as in what specific situations and exactly what information should be communicated. Radiologists should prioritize development of consensus statements and novel educational initiatives with regard to radiation-induced cancer risk awareness and communication.

Keywords: informed consent; patient-physician communication; radiation dose; radiation-induced cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Diagnostic Imaging*
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / etiology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Radiation Dosage*