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Radiation protection of patients in radiotherapy


The use of ionizing radiation in medicine has brought tremendous health benefits to the population globally. It should not be forgotten, however, that the use of ionizing radiation has an associated risk. Radiation protection of patients in radiotherapy means protecting patients against radiation risks as a consequence of incidents and accidents, as well as radiation risks under normal circumstances. It furthermore needs to be considered that when radiation is used for therapeutic purposes, there is also a risk for the patient when less radiation than intended is used, thereby compromising the tumour control.

Important Principles

Radiotherapy is a modality of medical exposure where a patient is placed directly in a beam of ionizing radiation, giving a very high absorbed dose to the patient. Radiation protection of the patient does not mean that this dose should be minimized, but instead that the irradiation should be optimized so that the correct dose is given to the target volume and the dose to healthy tissues is limited to acceptable levels, in order to be able to achieve the objective of the treatment. As with all other modalities of medical exposure, the irradiation of a patient should also be justified, i.e. it should yield sufficient benefit to the exposed individual to outweigh the radiation detriment it causes. Optimization and justification are two of the cornerstones of radiation protection. The third cornerstone, dose limitation, does not apply to medical exposure. Optimization of protection for medical exposure also implies to prevent accidents in radiotherapy. This is considered on a separate page.

Introduction to References

The Radiation Protection of Patients (RPoP) website contains information to help health professionals achieve safer use of radiation in medicine for the benefit of patients. Radiation protection of patients in external beam radiotherapy, brachytherapy and endovascular brachytherapy are all included as topics on the RPoP website. This website also contains training material on radiation protection in radiotherapy.

The key standards in this area are the International Basic Safety Standards for Protection against Ionizing Radiation and for the Safety of Radiation Sources, also known as the International BSS. These standards mark the culmination of efforts that have continued over the past several decades towards the harmonization of radiation protection and safety standards internationally.