J Radiol Prot. 2023 Nov 30. doi: 10.1088/1361-6498/ad1159. Online ahead of print.
Justification of medical radiation exposure is one of the main elements of radiation protection for patients. For a medical exposure to proceed, the benefit from the procedure must have been determined to be greater than the detriment. It is rare, however, that justification can be stated quantitatively as a ratio of benefit to detriment, or as a net benefit, and this is particularly true for medical diagnostic exposures associated with non-fatal diseases where survival statistics do not apply. The concept of the disability-adjusted life year (DALY) is well established as a measure of disease severity in public health, and there have been calls to revise the international system of radiation protection dosimetry to employ the DALY as a measure of radiation detriment. This paper looks at possible routes to quantify the benefit and detriment aspects of justification based on initial published results for the use of the DALY as a measure of radiation detriment, together with established values of DALY for a range of diseases. Although spreadsheet-style solutions for the calculation of a justification factor based on statistical life tables can be devised, these will be shown to have some limitations. A justification factor based on the rate of change of benefit divided by the rate of change of detriment following medical exposure is proposed. This factor is simple to calculate, is age independent, can apply to non-fatal diseases and is argued to have logical and ethical advantages for the explanation of the relative benefits and detriments of radiological procedures to patients.