The U.S. National Cancer Institute is supporting an ongoing study to check if the diagnostic examinations conducted on patients lead to an increased exposure to radiation.
The problem is, due to the doctors' desire to catch cancer early, patients are exposed to higher doses of radiation at a younger age and at more frequent intervals. Some authorities fear that this very same radiation used to track disease may eventually aggravate or cause disease.
Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman of the University of California, San Francisco reviewed cases from six large healthcare systems and discovered that the use of CT scans have tripled and MRI scans have quadrupled from 1996 to 2010.
30 percent of tests not needed
From their chart review, the researchers noted that 30 percent of all radiologic tests were uncalled for. This is due to patient and physician demand, medical uncertainty and defensive medicine.
"While imaging truly improves patient outcome, some of the time these tests are recommended without any use at all. The potential risks for cancer and other harms call for more evidence-based guidelines," said Dr. Smith-Bindman.
Data from their research show that CT scans increased from 52 per 1,000 patients in 1996 to 149 per 1,000 in 2010.
MRI increased from 17 to 65 per 1,0000 patients in the same span of time.
Why are we afraid of radiation, anyway?
Survivors of Hiroshima and Chernobyl can prove that exposure to high levels of radiation can cause cancer.
The most common cancers linked to radiation are:
Radiation exposure is measured in several ways. One method is by Rem or Roentgen equivalent to man. Total radiation exposure of more than 5,000 milliRem in one year or 10,000 milliRem in a lifetime may increase risk of cancer and hereditary defects.
Radiation exposure in daily life
The average person absorbs 360 milliRem per year. This is comes from cosmic rays, external sources from the soil and nuclear particles and internal sources like ingestion of foods exposed to radiation.
To put things in perspective, one chest x-ray image produces radiation amounting to 6 milliRem. A mammogram gives 45 milliRem per exposure. The radiation dose from a CT scan can be anywhere from 100 to 4,000 milliRem depending on the scope of the examination.
It is important to be informed of the risks of too much radiation exposure. Sometimes patients think that the more tests done, the better. Knowing the amount of radiation delivered by these tests will make you think twice about repeating them unnecessarily.
Dr. Diana Sarmiento is a mother of three, part-time doctor, and a full-time wife and mother. The topics closest to her heart are women’s health, parenting, and any new information that she can get her hands on. Read more on her personal blog, Filipina M.D.
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