Is Radiation Shielding Still Necessary During My Imaging Exam?

Header imaged for article picturing a woman getting an X-ray wearing a lead shield with an "X' over the shield

Since the 1950’s, health care providers have been draping their patients with heavy lead aprons or covering certain body parts with lead shields before x-ray exams. In the past, we were told that this helped protect our reproductive systems and our bodies from too much radiation exposure. Many have become accustomed to this practice. So is radiation shielding still necessary to wear during imaging exams? You may be shocked to hear that the answer is NO. 

Due to extensive research that proves patient shielding during radiology imaging exams provides no benefit to your health, many hospitals and imaging centers like UVA Health are moving away from this practice. Read on to learn more about why radiation shielding is actually not advantageous to your health. 

The Psychological Barriers to Discontinuing Shielding

Many people feel uneasy about radiation because, yes, in large amounts, radiation can be harmful. However, the amount of radiation our imaging machines require to produce a clear image is about one-twentieth of what it was in the 1950’s. In more recently published scientific materials, The American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) and the American College of Radiology (ACR) no longer support using radiation shields for imaging exams.  

At academic medical centers like UVA Health, teams of expert physicians and physicists met to thoroughly look over the literature and guidelines before deciding to implement this change. Many health care specialists know this practice has been deeply ingrained into the minds of both patients and providers. These teams of experts did not take the decision to discontinue shielding as a routine practice lightly.

Applying a substantial change in routine practice is not easy. Many patients who have long been comforted by the thought that the shielding was protecting their bodies may experience psychological discomfort or anxiety. However, you should not fear an imaging exam without a shield. We now know that shielding is unnecessary, and does not provide any health benefit. 

Rest Assured: Removing the Shield Will Not Harm You

At UVA Radiology and Medical Imaging, we want to provide you with the most current facts about radiation shielding, so that you can go to your imaging exams with ease and confidence. Below is a list of reasons why radiation shielding provides no additional benefit to your health:

  • The amount the of radiation emitted by imaging machines is significantly lower than it was several decades ago, and it is now safe to have imaging exams without shielding
  • Scientists have found no evidence that ovaries, testicles, or fetuses are harmed by radiation exposure from a diagnostic imaging exam
  • Lead shields may decrease the quality of the imaging
  • Lead shields are difficult to position accurately, even for highly trained technologists, and may unintentionally cover up anatomy that your doctor actually needs to see for a diagnosis
  • Due to the above, radiation shielding may cause a repeat imaging exam 

It is also important to note that healthcare providers who work closely with radiologic imaging machines, such as the technologist administering your exam, will still be protected behind lead barriers or wearing lead shielding. This is because they have continual exposure to radiation every day for up to eight hours at a time, not because they care more about their own health than yours. Continuous exposure to radiation is simply an occupational hazard. 

Gonad Shielding that is obscuring a lesion.
Gonad shielding that is obscuring a lesion. Image by S L FAWCETT, BA, BM BCh, MRCS and S J BARTER, MBBS, MRCP, FRCR, The British Journal of Radiology, 82 (2009), 363–370

Take Comfort: Your Well-Being is Our Top Priority

When you are having your imaging exam without wearing a shield, take comfort that this decision was reached after extensive and careful consideration by expert teams of technologists, physicians, and physicists. At UVA, we hope that these facts will help assure you that your health and well-being is our highest priority when making decisions about your medical imaging.

If you have any additional questions about the discontinuation of lead shielding at UVA, please email patient_shield@hscmail.mcc.virginia.edu.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment