Improving Health Through Medical Physics


Richard Martin, JD | Alexandria, VA

AAPM Newsletter — Volume 43 No.1 — January | February 2018

House Advances Low-Dose Radiation Research

The Low-Dose Radiation Basic Research Act of 2017 introduced in December 2017 before the U.S. House of Representatives would authorize a low-dose radiation research program within the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science. The legislation would direct the Office of Science to carry out a research program on low-dose radiation to enhance the scientific understanding of and reduce uncertainties associated with the effects of exposure to low-dose radiation. The bill also would direct the DOE to coordinate with other agencies, including the National Academies, to conduct a study assessing the current status and development of a long-term strategy for low-dose radiation research. It would also require the DOE to submit to Congress a four-year research plan that identifies and prioritizes research needs.

AAPM has been proactive in its support of the pending bill, arguing that more research regarding the effects of low-dose radiation is needed to optimize benefit to risk in medical use of radiation. In a letter to the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology (SST) Chair, Lamar Smith (R-TX), we stated, "Without additional knowledge, the medical community may be erring on the side of "overprotecting," which can lead to unnecessary increases in health care costs. For example, ordering a more expensive and time consuming MRI exam instead of a CT exam, simply because the CT exam uses ionizing radiation, increases both costs and delays in patient care. Data that might alleviate concerns about the low doses of radiation used in CT imaging would therefore contribute to improved and more cost-efficient medical care in a very practical way." The proposed bill would restart research and advance these goals.

The bill follows on the November 1, 2017 House Committee on Science, Space & Technology (SST) Subcommittee on Energy hearing about the future of research on low-dose radiation. The Subcommittee explored what could be gained by restarting research programs on low-dose radiation in DOE. Testimony supported the view that medical use of radiation has allowed some of the greatest advances in modern medicine, including the virtual elimination of exploratory surgery, the ability to diagnose disease earlier and monitor treatment for optimal patient care. Witnesses stressed the importance of continuing research in this area, advocating for more research on dosimetry, and the potential long-term effects of low-dose radiation exposure.

Also on November 1, 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report entitled, "Low-Dose Radiation: Interagency Collaboration on Planning Research Could Improve Information on Health Effects" (GAO-18-184T). In that report, the GAO was critical of what it identified as a lack of collaboration among the agencies conducting low-dose research. It recommended better collaboration among those agencies as well as a bigger role for DOE in this research. Full text is available here.

If you have questions or require additional information, contact Richard J Martin, JD, AAPM Government Relations Program Manager.

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