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Radiation exposure carries greater death risk for long-term smokers

Friday 31st March 2017
Exposure to X-rays may carry a greater health risk for smokers, new research shows. Image: Terroa via iStock
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Radiographers and radiologists treating patients who are long-term smokers may need to advise them of the extra risks that this habit poses to their health when X-rays or radiotherapy treatment are being carried out.

According to the results of a recent study funded by Cancer Research UK, the risks of exposure to radioactive rays in a medical setting are much more severe for smokers than non-smokers.

All exposure to X-rays or radiotherapy carries with it a small health risk, which is why radiographers and radiologists leave the room when such procedures are being performed, as frequent exposure could harm their health.

The research involved the analysis of data relating to 40,781 women with breast cancer from 75 radiotherapy trials, with the study authors looking at whether or not they smoked and how this impacted their health following the cancer treatment.

It was found that for non-smokers, the risk of eventual death from radiation exposure was just 0.5 per cent, but for smokers, this risk rose to five per cent.

As a result, it is vital that patients are encouraged to give up their cigarette habit as early on as possible in order to attempt to improve their long-term outcomes. 

For those who have smoked for many years, however, it may be too late, and all radiographers and radiologists will be able to do is advise them of this increased risk.

Therefore, it is important that awareness of this added risk of smoking is raised throughout hospitals and other healthcare facilities in a bid to encourage more people to kick the habit for good and begin safeguarding their health over the long term.

Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, commented: "This research highlights that breast cancer patients who smoke need to be offered help and support in order to try and quit to minimise any risks from their treatment.

"It's important to remember that modern-day radiotherapy techniques have been refined and improved to make sure it is targeted and effective while reducing the risk of side-effects."

Written by Megan Smith

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