IRSN, Institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire

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Exposure of the French population to ionizing radiation related to medical diagnosis in 2012

In October 2014, IRSN published a report on the exposure of the French population to ionizing radiation in relation with medical diagnostic procedures in 2012. This report, which is published every five years, updates the previous edition based on the year 2007. It analyzes the exposure according to the imaging modality (conventional radiology, dental radiology, nuclear medicine and CT), by anatomical region explored, by age and sex of the patient.

The main conclusions of the report are:  

In 2012 about 81.8 million diagnostic procedures using ionizing radiation took place in France, this was 6% more than in 2007, even by taking into account the increase in the population observed over this period. The number of imaging examinations is in progress, however it should be emphasized that medical imaging has a great positive impact on the quality of patient’s care.

Approximately 44% of the population underwent at least one medical diagnosis using ionizing radiation in 2012, the percentage of patients’ concerned increases with age.

Although accounted for only 10.4% of the number of examinations, CT scans represent 71.3% of the total dose delivered (compared with 58% of the total dose in 2007). Conventional radiology (apart from dental radiology) represents 54% of the procedures for 17.7% of the total dose delivered, nuclear medicine 1.3% of the procedures for 7.8% of the total dose delivered, and dental radiology 33.8% of procedures for 0.2% of the dose delivered.


Medical diagnosis leads in France on average to an effective dose equal to approximately 1.6 millisievert (mSv) per year per individual. The effective dose is a measure used in radiation protection which takes into account the doses delivered to each organ of the human body exposed and their specific sensitivity to ionizing radiation. It is expressed in millisievert (mSv).

The French value is among the higher average values in Europe however it remains much lower than in Belgium, where the population is considered the most exposed compared the rest of Europe (2.7 mSv per year and per resident).

Among patients concerned by at least one medical examination in 2012, individual exposure accumulated over the year is very diverse and mostly less than 1 mSv per year.

The average individual effective dose increased by approximately 20% between 2007 and 2012. This increase is considerably lower than that of the previous period (+57% between 2002 and 2007). This could be explained by:

  • An increase of about 12% of the number of CT scans, mostly exposing the chest, abdomen and pelvis, considered as the most radiosensitive organs.
  • A better knowledge in relation with practices and delivered doses by CT scans.

In addition, the data for 2012 highlighted, over a period from 2007 to 2012:

  • The number of PETSCANS doubled.
  • A 6% decrease in the number of conventional radiology procedures.
  • A strong increase in dental x-rays (+ 50% between 2002 and 2012).

IRSN also recently formed a committee of experts coming from Research and Scientific Societies, Health Agencies and Authorities concerned. Based on the panorama of medical exposures described by IRSN in the report, the Expert Committee will make recommendations concerning medical practices using ionizing radiation for diagnostic purposes, specifically for the repetitive use of CT on young children. The final goal of these recommendations is to reduce the exposure of patients without impairing the performance of diagnosis. The first meeting of the Expert Committee is expected by the end of the beginning of 2015.

More information

Download the original report (PDF, in French)

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