Evaluating the Environmental Impact of Radiation Therapy Using Life Cycle Assessments: A Critical Review

Katie E. Lichter, Kiley Charbonneau, Ali Sabbagh, Alon Witztum, Rob Chuter, Chirjiv Anand, Cassandra L. Thiel, Osama Mohamad

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Concurrent increases in global cancer burden and the climate crisis pose an unprecedented threat to public health and human well-being. Today, the health care sector greatly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, with the future demand for health care services expected to rise. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is an internationally standardized tool that analyzes the inputs and outputs of products, processes, and systems to quantify associated environmental impacts. This critical review explains the use of LCA methodology and outlines its application to external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) with the aim of providing a robust methodology to quantify the environmental impact of radiation therapy care practices today. The steps of an LCA are outlined and explained as defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 14040 and 14044) guidelines: (1) definition of the goal and scope of the LCA, (2) inventory analysis, (3) impact assessment, and (4) interpretation. The existing LCA framework and its methodology is described and applied to the field of radiation oncology. The goal and scope of its application to EBRT is the evaluation of the environmental impact of a single EBRT treatment course within a radiation oncology department. The methodology for data collection via mapping of the resources used (inputs) and the end-of-life processes (outputs) associated with EBRT is explained, with subsequent explanation of the LCA analysis steps. Finally, the importance of appropriate sensitivity analysis and the interpretations that can be drawn from LCA results are reviewed. This critical review of LCA protocol provides and evaluates a methodological framework to scientifically establish baseline environmental performance measurements within a health care setting and assists in identifying targets for emissions mitigation. Future LCAs in the field of radiation oncology and across medical specialties will be crucial in informing best practices for equitable and sustainable care in a changing climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)554-567
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiation
  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cancer Research


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