Skip main navigation

How safe is radiation therapy?

How safe is radiation therapy?
One of the most frequently asked questions about radiation therapy is its safety as a treatment. When the term radiation therapy is heard, it can cause fear and anxiety about its safety, as many people are only used to hearing about radiation in a negative rather than in a therapeutic or healing context. We will hear from Dr. Eduardo Zubizarreta from the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, the international organisation that has responsibility for all matters related to radiation on the safety of radiation therapy as a cancer treatment modality. I am Eduardo Zubizarreta. I am a radiation oncologist working for the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In my previous life, I worked as a clinical oncologist for 26 years, before joining the agency 12 years ago, in Latin America.
Radiation therapy is very safe, and has been very safe since decades. Is as safe as flying in a plane, you know, because the quality assurance systems used in radiotherapy are in many cases very similar to the quality assurance systems used in the aviation industry. You know, we have a lot of check lists and redundant verification, so it’s very safe.
There is a regulatory body in every country that, according to the nuclear law, requires certain things from, not only the radiotherapy department, it’s also the radiology departments, everything that involves radiation. And of course, the machines need to be accepted and commissioned, and the certificates need to be given to the institutions. The shielding of the rooms needs to be the correct one. And also, there could be, like in some countries, our peer review processes of auditing. And there are also the dosimetry audits that the regulatory body many times put in place. And all the instrumentation used for calibration of the machines is also calibrated in secondary standard laboratory.
So it’s very precise from the dosimetric point of view, and very precise also from the spatial point of view, you know, the millimetric precision.

As Eduardo mentioned in the video, radiation therapy is a very safe treatment. Radiation oncology departments are subject to highly rigorous safety checks and audits. In fact, safety checks for radiation oncology departments are developed from the same principles as the aviation industry.

Radiation therapy treatments are coordinated and checked by many members of the expert treatment team. The treatment plan is:

Commonly, all treatment plans are peer reviewed at multidisciplinary team meetings to ensure the highest standards.

Radiation therapy machines

Treatment machines (linear accelerators) are maintained and checked by the clinical engineer and medical physicist to ensure that they are both

  • geometrically (the shape of the beams) and
  • dosimetrically (radiation dose that comes from the machine) accurate at all times.

Every radiation therapy department has protocols in place to ensure that if the linear accelerators do not meet the required safety standard that they are taken out of use.

Radiation oncology departments

Radiation oncology departments are designed so that they are completely safe for patients and visitors. Radiation warning signs are seen in radiation oncology departments to ensure that the public does not have access to the linear accelerators. These machines can only be operated by expert members of the radiation oncology team, which are the radiation therapists.

This article is from the free online

An Introduction to Radiation Oncology: From Diagnosis to Survivorship

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now