Study finds nuclear medicine technologist may have a greater risk of developing cataracts

por Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | February 15, 2018
SNMMI is monitoring this closely
A study published in the February issue of Radiology found that nuclear medicine technologists could be at risk of developing cataracts due to radiation exposure.

The Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging announced last Tuesday that this current research is too ambiguous, but that it will continue to monitor this issue.

However, if future studies confirm that cataracts are an occupational hazard for NM technologists, SNMMI will take action. Norman E. Bolus, president-elect of the SNMMI Technologist Section, told HCB News that they will work to identify what changes need to be made to ensure the continued health and safety of its NM technologist members.

Between 2003 and 2005, and 2012 and 2013, 42,545 radiologic technologists completed questionnaires regarding their work and cataract histories. The data was stratified according to each participant’s birth year — born before or after 1940 — and adjusted for age, sex and race.

After about 7.5 years, 7,137 incidents of cataracts were reported. A significantly higher risk of cataracts was observed among technologists who performed an NM procedure at least once, compared to technologists who never performed those types of procedures.

In addition, the risk was higher for those who had first performed diagnostic NM procedures in the 1980s and early 2000s and those who performed therapeutic NM procedures in the 1970s and the 1980s to early 2000s.

“Safety precautions since the early 1980s have reduced exposures,” said Bolus. “While PET imaging and an increased volume of nuclear medicine studies have seen exposure rates increase, they are still well below occupational exposure limits.”

He added that NM technologists take a number of precautions to lessen their risk of developing job-related cataracts, including adhering to As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA) principles to reduce radiation exposure, working behind L-blocks and using appropriate syringe shields with radioactive materials.

The researchers at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire, and University of Minnesota who conducted the recent study, concluded that the association between cataracts and NM procedures should be examined in future studies that incorporate estimated lens doses.

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