Foetal and Gonadal Shielding

History of foetal and gonadal shielding

Experts in medicine and radiation physics have recently concluded that the use of lead shielding during medical imaging examinations, a common practice for nearly 70 years, is no longer necessary. In the 1950s, medical radiation practitioners began shielding the gonads (ovaries or testes) of patients and the pregnant woman’s foetus (i.e. baby). This practice began because experts were unsure about the long-term effects of radiation exposure.

Why is practice changing now?

Recent technological advances in medical imaging equipment have contributed to a significant reduction in radiation exposure whilst still achieving high quality diagnostic images.

According to the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM), there is no scientific evidence that shielding is required or that it benefits patients from a radiation protection perspective. In fact, the use of shielding can interfere with the automated radiation exposure systems in modern equipment that aim to deliver the lowest dose achievable or may cover up essential anatomy that the radiologist (specialist doctor) needs to see.

What other methods are used to protect me from ionising radiation?

Our radiographers are highly skilled and trained in radiation safety measures which reduce radiation exposure this includes;

  • ensuring the type of examination you have been referred for will provide the radiologist with information that helps your doctor provide medical care,
  • optimising the examination to ensure that the radiation dose is a low as reasonably achievable while still providing high quality diagnostic images; and
  • limiting the size of the radiation field so that only the area of interest is exposed.

I am still worried, what if I still want shielding to be used for my child or myself

Parents of children – If your child is having a medical imaging examination, you may still wish for gonadal shielding to be used; please advise the radiographer if this is the case. Please note that the provision of shielding is to provide psychological reassurance only and provides no radiation protection benefits. At the discretion of the radiographer, they may be able to apply shielding paying careful attention to ensure that the quality of the examination is not compromised.

Pregnant women – If you are having a medical imaging examination and you wish for foetal shielding to be used, the radiographer must ensure that the application of shielding for that examination will not inadvertently increase the dose to your and your baby. At the discretion of the radiographer, they may apply shielding paying careful attention to ensure that the quality of the examination is not compromised nor that the overall radiation dose is not increased.

I still have questions; who can I ask?

Medical information can be complex, and you may receive information that you do not fully understand. Please feel free to talk to your referring doctor or the radiographer performing the medical imaging examination, about any questions or concerns that you have. You can take this information sheet with you.

Who supports this change?

This change in practice introduced in 2019 is supported by many professional organisations including the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM), Australasian College of Scientists & Engineers in Medicine (ACPSEM) and the Australian Society for Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapy (ASMIRT).

Dec 2023