Equivalent dose (symbol HT) is a dose quantity calculated for individual organs (index T – tissue). The equivalent dose is based on the absorbed dose to an organ, adjusted to account for the effectiveness of the type of radiation. An equivalent dose is given the symbol HT. The SI unit of HT is the sievert (Sv) or but rem (roentgen equivalent man) is still commonly used (1 Sv = 100 rem). Unit of sievert was named after the Swedish scientist Rolf Sievert, who did a lot of the early work on dosimetry in radiation therapy.
As was written, for radiation protection purposes, the absorbed dose is averaged over an organ or tissue, T. This absorbed dose average is weighted for the radiation quality in terms of the radiation weighting factor, wR, for the type and energy of radiation incident on the body. The radiation weighting factor is a dimensionless factor used to determine the equivalent dose from the absorbed dose averaged over a tissue or organ based on the type of radiation absorbed. The resulting weighted dose was designated as the organ- or tissue equivalent dose:
From Absorbed Dose to Equivalent Dose
Note that the sievert is not a physical dose unit. For example, an absorbed dose of 1 Gy by alpha particles will lead to an equivalent dose of 20 Sv. This may seem to be a paradox. It implies that the energy of the incident radiation field in joules has increased by a factor of 20, thereby violating the laws of Conservation of energy. However, this is not the case. Sievert is derived from the physical quantity absorbed dose but also considers the biological effectiveness of the radiation, which is dependent on the radiation type and energy. The radiation weighting factor causes the sievert cannot be a physical unit.
As was written, each type of radiation interacts with matter in a different way and causes different biological damages. For example, charged particles with high energies can directly ionize atoms. On the other hand, electrically neutral particles interact indirectly but can also transfer some or all of their energies to the matter. It would certainly simplify matters if the biological effects of radiation were directly proportional to the absorbed dose. Unfortunately, biological effects also depend on how the absorbed dose is distributed along the radiation path. Studies have shown that alpha and neutron radiation cause greater biological damage for a given energy deposition per kg of tissue than gamma radiation. Biological effects of any radiation increase with the linear energy transfer (LET) were discovered. In short, the biological damage from high-LET radiation (alpha particles, protons, or neutrons) is much greater than that from low-LET radiation (gamma rays). This is because the living tissue can more easily repair damage from radiation spread over a large area than that concentrated in a small area. Because more biological damage is caused for the same physical dose (i.e., the same energy deposited per unit mass of tissue), one gray of alpha or neutron radiation is more harmful than one gray of gamma radiation. The fact that radiations of different types (and energies) give different biological effects for the same absorbed dose is described in terms of factors known as the relative biological effectiveness (RBE) and the radiation weighting factor (wR).
Radiation Weighting Factor
In radiation protection, the radiation weighting factor is a dimensionless factor used to determine the equivalent dose from the absorbed dose averaged over a tissue or organ. It is based on the type of radiation absorbed. In the past, a similar factor known as the quality factor was used for this purpose. The radiation weighting factor estimates the effectiveness per unit dose of the given radiation relative to a low-LET standard.
Before 1990, dose-equivalent quantities were defined in terms of a quality factor, Q(L), that was applied to the absorbed dose at a point to take into account the differences in the effects of different types of radiation. In its 1990 recommendations, the ICRP introduced a modified concept. For radiological protection purposes, the absorbed dose is averaged over an organ or tissue, T. This absorbed dose average is weighted for the radiation quality in terms of the radiation weighting factor, wR, for the type and energy of radiation incident on the body.
The reason for replacing the quality factor, i.e., the Q–L relationship, with wR values in the definition of the organ-equivalent doses and the effective dose was that the Commission believed:
‘that the detail and precision inherent in using a formal Q–L relationship to modify absorbed dose to reflect the higher probability of detriment resulting from exposure to radiation components with high LET is not justified because of the uncertainties in the radiological information.’
Noteworthy, these two factors, the radiation weighting factor and the quality factor, are restricted to the dose range of interest to radiation protection, i.e., to the general magnitude of the dose limits. In special circumstances where one deals with higher doses that can cause deterministic effects, the relevant RBE values are applied to obtain a weighted dose.
Special Reference: ICRP, 2003. Relative Biological Effectiveness (RBE), Quality Factor (Q), and Radiation Weighting Factor (wR). ICRP Publication 92. Ann. ICRP 33 (4).
Radiation Weighting Factors – ICRP
For photon and electron radiation, the radiation weighting factor has the value of 1, independently of the energy of the radiation, and for alpha radiation, the value is 20. For neutron radiation, the value is energy-dependent and amounts to 5 to 20.
In 2007 ICRP published a new set of radiation weighting factors (ICRP Publ. 103: The 2007 Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection). These factors are given below.
As shown in the table, a wR of 1 is for all low-LET radiations, i.e., X-rays and gamma rays of all energies as well as electrons and muons. A smooth curve, considered an approximation, was fitted to the wR values as a function of incident neutron energy. Note that En is the neutron energy in MeV.
Thus, for example, an absorbed dose of 1 Gy by alpha particles will lead to an equivalent dose of 20 Sv, and an equivalent dose of radiation is estimated to have the same biological effect as an equal amount of absorbed dose of gamma rays, which is given a weighting factor of 1.
The quality factor of a radiation type is defined as the ratio of the biological damage produced by the absorption of 1 Gy of that radiation to the biological damage produced by 1 Gy of X-rays or gamma rays.
The Q of a certain type of radiation is related to the density of the ion tracks it leaves behind in tissue. The quality factors for the various types of radiation are listed in the table.
These quality factors are restricted to the dose range of interest to radiation protection, i.e., to the general magnitude of the dose limits. In special circumstances where one deals with higher doses that can cause deterministic effects, the relevant RBE values are applied to obtain a weighted dose.