Radiation

Imaging tests: Using them wisely

Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH
Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans are among the many advanced imaging options available to doctors and patients today. Although these tests have revolutionized medical care, they also come at a cost. But not only are these tests expensive — many of them expose patients to radiation, and all of them can reveal potential problems that turn out to be harmless, but require follow-up tests to be sure. Rather than have insurance companies act as gatekeeper, it may be more effective to have clinicians consult with imaging experts when deciding on which, if any, tests are necessary.

Prostate cancer lives as it is born: slow-growing and benign or fast-growing and dangerous

Daniel Pendick
Daniel Pendick, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

In many men diagnosed with prostate cancer, the cancer cells grow so slowly that they never break free of the gland, spread to distant sites, and pose a serious risk to health and longevity. Instead of embarking on immediate treatment, a growing number of men choose active surveillance, in which doctors monitor low-risk cancers closely and consider treatment only when the disease appears to make threatening moves toward growing and spreading. A new Harvard study shows that the aggressiveness of prostate cancer at diagnosis remains stable over time for most men. If confirmed, then prompt treatment can be reserved for the cancers most likely to pose a threat, while men with slow-growing, benign prostate cancer—which is unlikely to cause problems in a man’s lifetime—can reasonably choose active surveillance.

Visual and audio guides to radiation risk

Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

It can be hard to understand what the release of radiation from Japan’s earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant means in terms of human health. Are the radiation levels dangerous and, if so, how dangerous. Most reporters put the risk into perspective using words. Cartoonist Randall Munroe and nuclear reactor operator Ellen McManis have put together different ways of illustrating the risk visually, while radio producer Adam Ragusea offers an audio illustration of various radiation exposures.

Update: Harmful radiation from Japan is not reaching the United States—no need for Americans to take potassium iodide

Peter Wehrwein
Peter Wehrwein, Contributor, Harvard Health

Minutes after I posted my article today about radiation from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant not reaching the United States in harmful amounts, I heard a news report about iodine-131 from the plant being detected in rainwater in Massachusetts. Iodine-131 is a radioactive form of iodine. It’s a byproduct of the reaction that […]

Harmful radiation from Japan is not reaching the United States—no need for Americans to take potassium iodide

Peter Wehrwein
Peter Wehrwein, Contributor, Harvard Health

Even though the situation at the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan remains unsettled, the likelihood that radiation released by the crippled power plant will reach the United States is slim. Harvard Health Letter editor Peter Wehrwein talks with Dr. Richard Zane, a disaster planning expert at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, about potassium iodide pills: what they can—and can’t—do, their benefits and hazards, and why Americans should not be stockpiling or taking them.

Radiation risk in Japan: an update

Peter Wehrwein
Peter Wehrwein, Contributor, Harvard Health

Several people who read my earlier post about radiation readings at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan pointed out that the time period over which the radiation exposure occurs is important. They’re right—the radiation dose and how long you are exposed to it determine how much radiation you are receiving. That is why […]