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How safe are x-rays in interventional radiology (IR)?

Patient information A-Z

What is radiation?

Radiation is all around us, be it from the sun, the gases in our home (radon gas), or even some of the foods we eat. We cannot avoid it. However, in the healthcare setting radiation is very useful to make images of the human body.

X-rays are a type of radiation that can pass through the body. They can't be seen by the naked eye and you can't feel them.

Safety of x-rays

A medical x-ray or interventional procedure is a relatively safe technique. As with any medical procedure / examination, your referring health care professional will always consider the overall benefit to you when making a referral for a radiological study. This will then be fully justified by a trained practitioner (usually a radiologist).

Examples of procedures in IR and the relative radiation doses

Procedures for very low radiation dose:

  • Nephrostogram
  • Simple angioplasty
  • Nephrostomy tube change
  • Lumbar puncture
  • Dacrocystogram
  • Myelogram

Procedures for low radiation dose:

  • TAE
  • Biliary Intervention
  • Complex angioplasty
  • Complex diagnostic angiography
  • Complex embolisation
  • Aneurysm coiling
  • Complex AVM embolisation

Interventional procedures carry various levels of radiation. Ionising radiation can cause cell damage, however the risk of this happening from your examination is considered low. Radiation exposure during interventional procedures is generally regarded as low, however higher radiation doses might be necessary in difficult or complex cases. We will always keep the exposure as low as is reasonably practicable.
There are many factors that affect radiation dose during procedures such as the complexity of the procedure or size of the patient, which means the amount of radiation used to complete the procedure will vary from patient to patient.

Additional Information

You have been referred for an interventional radiology procedure to help deliver your treatment. A specialist in radiology agrees that this is the best procedure to treat your clinical condition and that the benefit of the procedure is greater than the risk.

The x-ray involves a dose of ionising radiation equivalent to a few months or years of natural background radiation which we are all exposed to every day. Ionising radiation can cause cell damage that may turn cancerous however the risk of this happening from your examination is considered low. The risk of cancer inducement due to your radiation exposure is between 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 1,000.

Depending on the length of the procedure there may also be a small risk of an excess radiation dose to the skin leading to short term and long-term effects (for example reddening of the skin and burns).

If this happens as a result of this procedure, you will receive further advice following the procedure.

If you have any questions about your procedure please ask your radiologist / radiographer.

We are smoke-free

Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the hospital campus. For advice and support in quitting, contact your GP or the free NHS stop smoking helpline on 0800 169 0 169.

Other formats

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Contact us

Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge

Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151