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Understanding the Cataract Phenomenon in Radiology Techs

As nuclear medicine (NM) procedures have become more popular in U.S. hospitals, radiology technologists are at increasing risk for developing a cataract. According to a new study published in Radiology, this ionizing radiation technology that’s used to evaluate organ health and treat disease can cause damage to technologists’ eyes.

Between the years 2003 and 2005, and 2012 and 2013, a group of researchers from the National Cancer Institute, the University of Minnesota, and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists surveyed 42,545 radiologic technologists about their work history, eye health, lifestyle, their use of radiation protection, and their age when they were diagnosed with a cataract or underwent surgery for the condition.

NM procedures are a regular part of a radiologic technologist’s workload, and the researchers found that 30 percent of radiologic technologists had participated in a NM procedure at least once a week. They determined that 96 percent have conducted the procedure at least once in their lives and 2,458 of them had performed a NM procedure at least once in their career. Among those surveyed, 16 percent, or 7,137 radiologic technologists had been diagnosed with cataracts. Eighty percent of participants were female and 96 percent were white. Overall, the researchers learned that technologists who conducted NM procedures in the 1980s had a higher risk of developing cataracts than those who had initially performed these procedures in the 1950s.

These findings suggest the need to implement better protection for technologists who perform NM procedures. “In contrast to professionals who work with standard radiologic procedures, those who work with NM procedures cannot avoid being in close contact with radioactive pharmaceuticals when they prepare and/or administer injections and during the imaging process,” write the researchers.

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