Breast Imaging

Breast Screening Goes Green

Earth Day will be celebrated on April 22, and the event is a good opportunity to step back and take a look at medical imaging’s (not insignificant) contribution to climate change. Fortunately, a new paper in Health Policy details how one imaging service – breast screening – can be made more environmentally friendly. 

Previous studies have documented that medical imaging is a substantial contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, given the massive energy consumption required to keep all that big iron humming. 

  • Researchers have recommended a variety of solutions to reduce radiology’s environmental footprint, from powering equipment down overnight to switching to alternative energy sources to power medical facilities. 

The new study gets even more specific, analyzing the greenhouse emissions inherent in cancer screening – in particular patient travel – and offering ways to make it more planet-friendly. 

  • Researchers reviewed cancer screening programs in the Italian region of Tuscany, quantifying the CO2 emissions for different screening services. 

Greenhouse gas emissions could be cut dramatically by switching from a provider-centric model that requires patients to travel to centralized screening facilities to one in which mobile vans were sent into the field. Using model calculations for mammography screening, they found that in one district alone …

  • Breast screening was the most polluting cancer screening service, mostly because it had the highest number of invitees (3.4k women) traveling for screening
  • Institution-based breast screening generated CO2 emissions of 35,870 kgCO2-eq/km annually
  • Mobile breast screening had emissions of 805 kgCO2-eq/km – just 2.2% of emissions from site-based screening

The study is unique in that it views sustainability and environmental pollution as a healthcare issue that’s fully within the purview of providers to address. 

The Takeaway

The new study outlines a holistic approach to healthcare services that – right now – many US providers might believe is outside the scope of their operations. But as Earth Day approaches, it’s worth at least considering how in years to come healthcare could be delivered within a broader context of social and environmental stewardship.

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