Radiation exposure is a major concern for women considering a career in cardiology, as it has been consistently cited as a reason why women are deterred from entering the field. Major human studies on radiation exposure found that sex-related factors may influence the long-term response to radiation, in which women have a significantly higher risk of developing radiation-induced cancer and experiencing more adverse effects than men exposed to the same radiation dose. 

Furthermore, high radiation exposure during pregnancy increases fetal risks. Surveys show that many women cardiologists lack knowledge about their department’s policies on radiation exposure during pregnancy. This lack of standardization extends to radiation safety practices and protective strategies in general. Therefore, it is crucial for all cardiologists to receive comprehensive education on radiation at various stages of their career. This knowledge is essential for planning protection, particularly for women in cardiology who experience higher risks in pregnancy and developing radiation-induced cancer.

Higher Radiation-Induced Cancer Risk

Several studies have highlighted the impact of sex on the risks associated with exposure to ionizing radiation. For instance, female breasts are more sensitive to radiation compared to male breasts. Females have a higher risk of radiation-induced:

  • Lung cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Breast cancer

Although men can develop breast cancer, it is exceptionally rare, and the risk of radiation-induced breast cancer in men is very low. As individuals age, the risk of radiation-related health issues decreases for both sexes.

Fetal Risks of High Radiation Exposure During Pregnancy

High radiation exposure during pregnancy can pose various risks to the developing fetus. The severity of these risks depends on the dose and timing of the radiation exposure. 

1. Pregnancy Loss

In cases of extremely high radiation exposure, there is an increased risk of miscarriage or stillbirth. Severe damage to the developing fetus may lead to pregnancy loss. 

2. Malformation

High levels of radiation exposure can increase the risk of structural abnormalities in the developing fetus. These malformations can affect different organs or body systems,  leading to birth defects. 

3. Disturbances of growth or development

Radiation exposure can interfere with the normal growth and development of the fetus, leading to growth restriction within the uterus. This can result in low birth weight and potential long-term health consequences. 

4. Increased Risk of Cancer

Prenatal exposure to high levels of radiation can raise the risk of childhood cancer in the offspring. The type and likelihood of cancer depend on the specific organs or tissues affected by the radiation. 

The threshold for these risks is not clearly defined, and the level of radiation exposure that poses a significant danger to the fetus can vary. Therefore, the focus should be on minimizing occupational exposure by understanding radiation physics, using shielding and protective wear, and being aware of positioning and equipment orientation when working in the catheterization lab. 

Scatter Matters for Everyone

Scatter radiation is an extreme occupational hazard for all who work in the catheterization lab. Radiation protection systems such as the Egg Nest™ from Egg Medical are easy to use and protect everyone on your team. The Egg Nest™ can reduce scatter radiation by >91% for the entire interventional team without compromising workflow on patient access. 

Learn how you can protect and reduce your entire team’s radiation exposure scatter score

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