With Rise in Radiation Exposure, Experts Urge Caution on Tests
radiology have radically transformed medical practice, with CT scans and nuclear
medicine exams providing physicians with the ability to quickly pinpoint
internal bleeding, diagnose kidney stones or confirm appendicitis, assess
thyroid function and identify and open blockages in the blood vessels to the
The downside is
that Americans are being exposed to record amounts of ionizing radiation, the
most energetic and potentially hazardous form of radiation.
According to a
new study, the per-capita dose of ionizing radiation from clinical imaging
exams in the United States
increased almost 600 percent from 1980 to 2006. In the past, natural background
radiation was the leading source of human exposure; that has been displaced by
diagnostic imaging procedures, the authors said.
“This is an
absolutely sentinel event, a wake-up call,” said Dr. Fred A. Mettler Jr.,
principal investigator for the study, by the National Council on Radiation
Protection. “Medical exposure now dwarfs that of all other sources.”
financed by the federal government, is to be published by early next year. It
found a particularly sharp rise in the number of CT scans — to 62 million in
2006, from 3 million in 1980. Though CTs make up only 12 percent of all medical
radiation procedures, they deliver almost half of the estimated collective dose
of radiation exposure in the United
States. A CT scan exposes patients to far more
radiation than a standard X-ray, and multislice CT scanners deliver higher
doses of radiation than single-slice scanners.
medicine exams increased to 18.1 million in 2006, from 6.4 million in 1980.
They represent almost a quarter of the estimated collective radiation dose,
with cardiac studies making up most of the dose.
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