Clinical Study| Volume 23, ISSUE 6, P824-831, June 2023

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Projected lifetime cancer risk for patients undergoing spine surgery for isthmic spondylolisthesis

Published:February 01, 2023DOI:



      Radiographs, fluoroscopy, and computed tomography (CT) are increasingly utilized in the diagnosis and management of various spine pathologies. Such modalities utilize ionizing radiation, a known cause of carcinogenesis. While the radiation doses such studies confer has been investigated previously, it is less clear how such doses translate to projected cancer risks, which may be a more interpretable metric.


      (1) Calculate the lifetime cancer risk and the relative contributions of preference-sensitive selection of imaging modalities associated with the surgical management of a common spine pathology, isthmic spondylolisthesis (IS); (2) Investigate whether the use of intraoperative CT, which is being more pervasively adopted, increases the risk of cancer.


      Retrospective cross-sectional study carried out within a large integrated health care network.


      Adult patients who underwent surgical treatment of IS via lumbar fusion from January 2016 through December 2021.


      (1) Effective radiation dose and lifetime cancer risk associated with each exposure to ionizing radiation; (2) Difference in effective radiation dose (and lifetime cancer risk) among patients who received intraoperative CT compared to other intraoperative imaging techniques.


      Baseline demographics and differences in surgical techniques were characterized. Radiation exposure data were collected from the 2-year period centered on the operative date. Projected risk of cancer from this radiation was calculated utilizing each patient's effective radiation dose in combination with age and sex. Generalized linear modeling was used to adjust for covariates when determining the comparative risk of intraoperative CT as compared to alternative imaging modalities.


      We included 151 patients in this cohort. The range in calculated cancer risk exclusively from IS management was 1.3-13 cases of cancer per 1,000 patients. During the intraoperative period, CT imaging was found to significantly increase radiation exposure as compared to alternate imaging modalities (adjusted risk difference (ARD) 12.33mSv; IQR 10.04, 14.63mSv; p<.001). For a standardized 40 to 49-year-old female, this projects to an additional 0.72 cases of cancer per 1,000. For the entire 2-year perioperative care episode, intraoperative CT as compared to other intraoperative imaging techniques was not found to increase total ionizing radiation exposure (ARD 9.49mSv; IQR -0.83, 19.81mSv; p=.072). The effect of intraoperative imaging choice was mitigated in part due to preoperative (ARD 13.1mSv, p<.001) and postoperative CTs (ARD 22.7mSv, p<.001).


      Preference-sensitive imaging decisions in the treatment of IS impart substantial cancer risk. Important drivers of radiation exposure exist in each phase of care, including intraoperative CT and/or CT scans during the perioperative period. Knowledge of these data warrant re-evaluation of current imaging protocols and suggest a need for the development of radiation-sensitive approaches to perioperative imaging.



      CT (Computed Tomography), IS (Isthmic Spondylolisthesis), ARD (Adjusted Risk Difference), IQR (Interquartile Range)
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