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Cancer -- Is Low-Dose Radiation Imaging Increasing Your Risk?

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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.

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Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Anon - Are you associated with the xray risk website? I'm curious as to why the site was created, and if the medical professionals associated with it are finding increasing numbers of patients with concerns about radiation. Can you let us know? Thanks, Pat

February 3, 2010 - 5:44pm
EmpowHER Guest

www.xrayrisk.com has more info on cancer risk from radiation and has a calculator that lets you estimate dose and calculate risk from CT scans and xrays.

February 2, 2010 - 7:32pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.