Lehigh Valley Health Network Discontinuing Lead Shielding During Imaging Studies
BY HANNAH ROPP
Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) wants to provide our patients with the highest quality imaging. For that reason, LVHN will no longer place lead shields over patients during certain diagnostic imaging studies beginning April 1, 2021. This change applies to X-ray, CT and fluoroscopy.
Research has shown the practice of lead shielding is not advantageous and in some cases may cause more harm than good. We understand you may have questions about this change. Please see our frequently asked questions to get answers to some of our most common questions.
Why is LVHN eliminating the practice of placing lead shields over patients?
In April 2019, the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) released a statement outlining reasons for limiting the use of lead shielding during imaging. Research has shown that modern imaging units, like X-ray, emit very little radiation and lead shields do little or nothing to benefit patients.
Will I be exposed to unsafe levels of radiation during my imaging studies?
You will not be exposed to unsafe levels of radiation during your imaging studies.
Also, our X-ray systems now have built in radiation sensors (AEC) that determine the amount of radiation needed to produce a good diagnostic image. Lead shields can get in the way of the sensors and actually increase the dose of radiation a person receives.
Why is this decision being made now?
Lead shielding began due to concerns about how radiation would affect certain organs, specifically reproductive organs. However, many years of research have shown no data that X-ray exams cause damage or harm to reproductive organs. Technology has also improved to detect and limit the amount of radiation released.
Are there benefits to not using lead shields during imaging?
Using lead shields during imaging studies can cause more harm than good. In some cases, lead shields can obscure important information physicians need to see, which may lead to repeat imaging studies.
Do lead shields decrease the risk of infertility?
No, the amount of radiation needed to cause infertility is greater than 100 times the dose from a medical imaging study.
Should pediatric patients still use lead shielding?
Lead shield may hide important organs or body parts physicians need to see. If that happens, the imaging study would need to be repeated and the total amount of radiation a patient are exposed to would be increased.
We also now know more about how radiation affects the body and some parts of the body, like the gonads, is not as sensitive to radiation as previously thought.
Will radiation from an imaging study harm my baby if I’m pregnant?
Studies have shown that shielding a pregnant woman provides no benefit to the baby, so it’s best not to do it. We have equipment that gives us better information using very minimal radiation; however, placing a lead shield over a pregnant belly can reduce the quality of the image.
What if I have multiple X-rays over my life, should I use lead shielding?
Even if you have multiple X-rays, you will be safe without lead shielding. Healthy cells are built to protect them against small doses of radiation and there is evidence that the radiation from multiple studies is not cumulative.
For more information, please reach out to Radiation_Safety@LVHN.org.
For more information about patient shielding, please visit the websites below.
- American Association of Physics in Medicine (AAPM) Recommendation on Elimination of Patient Shielding
- Image Wisely Patient Shielding Recommendation
- Patient Shielding in Diagnostic Imaging: Discontinuing a Legacy Practice