A trip to your doctor or dentist usually means you will be examined from the inside out. But, low-dose radiation like that used in x-rays, mammograms and other diagnostic tests could be causing some cancers.
There is enough concern that researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center are now incorporating radiation dose exposure reports into their electronic medical records.
It’s an effort the NIH hopes will lead to an accurate assessment of whether any cancer risk is associated with low-dose radiation exposure from medical imaging tests according to an article in the February issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology (JACR).
But not everyone agrees that exposure to diagnostic medical radiation are unsafe. What’s more, it could be many years before we know for sure.
"The cancer risk from low-dose medical radiation tests is largely unknown. Yet it is clear that the U.S. population is increasingly being exposed to more diagnostic-test-derived ionizing radiation than in the past," said David A. Bluemke, MD, lead author of the article and director of Radiology and Imaging Sciences at the NIH Clinical Center.
Dr. Bluemke notes one widely publicized appraisal of medical radiation exposure suggested that about 1.5 to 2 percent of all cancers in the USA might be caused by the clinical use of CT alone.
A CT scan — also called computerized tomography or just CT — combines a series of X-ray views taken from many different angles to produce cross-sectional images of the bones and soft tissues inside your body. The images can then be used to make 3-D images that are useful to doctors in viewing internal injuries or other types of trauma. It can also be used to visualize the brain or problems in your blood vessels.
There is no epidemiologic data directly relating CT scanning to cancer deaths, so scientific assessment must instead rely on the relationship between radiation exposure and death rates from Japanese atomic bomb survivors.