Effective dose from radiation exposure in medicine: Past, present, and future

Colin J. Martin*, John Harrison, Madan M. Rehani

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Effective dose (E) has been developed by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) as a dose quantity with a link to risks of health detriment, mainly cancer. It is based on reference phantoms representing average individuals, but this is often forgotten in its application to medical exposures, for which its use sometimes goes beyond the intended purpose. There has been much debate about issues involved in the use of E in medicine and ICRP is preparing a publication with more information on this application. This article aims to describe the development of E and explain how it should be used in medicine. It discusses some of the issues that arise when E is applied to medical exposures and provides information on how its use might evolve in the future. The article concludes with responses to some frequently asked questions about uses of E that are in line with the forthcoming ICRP publication. The main use of E in medicine is in meaningful comparison of doses from different types of procedure not possible with measurable dose quantities. However, it can be used, with appropriate care, as a measure of possible cancer risks. When considering E to individual patients, it is important to note that the dose received will differ from that assessed for reference phantoms, and the risk per Sv is likely to be greater on average in children and less in older adults. Newer techniques allow the calculation of patient-specific E which should be distinguished from the reference quantity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-92
Number of pages6
JournalPhysica Medica
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Computed tomography
  • Dose coefficients
  • Effective dose
  • Patient dosimetry
  • Reference phantoms


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