How Can We Make Ionizing Radiation Safer?

ionizing radiation

A recently published review article examines the use of antioxidants to limit the harmful impacts of ionizing radiation in medical imaging.

The use of medical imaging is pervasive and central to examining various body systems to optimize treatment. Common medical imaging techniques include X-ray and computed tomography (CT), which expose patients to ionizing radiation.

The impact of radiation is not negligible and in fact, can have harmful effects on the body. Ionizing radiation can damage DNA and increase the risk of cancer. Notably, as many as 2% of cancers are linked to radiation exposure from CT scans. Scientists are therefore making efforts to decrease the dose of radiation that patients encounter by administering radioprotective agents. Some groups are studying how antioxidants may be able to reduce DNA damage and in turn, reduce the likelihood of forming cancer. A group from the United States recently published a review article in the Journal of Translational Medicine examining the use of radioprotective agents to prevent cellular damage from ionizing radiation.

Although there is a large amount of evidence demonstrating that radioprotective agents can limit side effects of radiation therapy, radioprotective agents are not used when patients undergo diagnostic medical imaging. The review highlights how radioprotective compounds such as antioxidants are able to enhance DNA repair, reduce inflammation post-radiation, and remove highly reactive molecules in cells. Many studies using cell-based and animal models show that a multitude of antioxidant agents can elicit beneficial effects. Furthermore, a recent human study has demonstrated that taking multi-agent antioxidant pills was able to prevent DNA damage in patients receiving medical scans. This study had few patients, however, and more studies will need to be conducted to confirm that antioxidants should be taken prior to medical imaging.

Additionally, there are no long-term studies that look at the role of antioxidants preventing long-term side effects. Results from a longer study would provide a stronger basis for using radioprotective agents to counteract the adverse effects of diagnostic imaging. Nonetheless, the summary of preclinical and clinical data in this review article illustrates potential clinical benefits for patients by taking radioprotective agents before undergoing medical imaging.

Written by Branson Chen, BHSc

Reference: Smith TA, Kirkpatrick DR, Smith S, Smith TK, Pearson T, Kailasam A, Herrmann KZ, Schubert J, Agrawal DK. Radioprotective agents to prevent cellular damage due to ionizing radiation. Journal of Translational Medicine. 2017 Nov 9;15(1):232.