Radiation risks of medical imaging, from Harvard Women’s Health Watch
Computed tomography (CT) scans and nuclear imaging have revolutionized the diagnosis and treatment of many conditions and have almost eliminated the need for once-common exploratory surgery. But will we pay a price—more cases of cancer—for these advances? The October 2010 issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch takes up this important question.
Mammograms, chest and dental x-rays, bone density tests, and other types of x-rays deliver only small amounts of radiation to the body, and so add little to future risk of cancer. In contrast, a CT scan delivers 70 times as much radiation as a chest x-ray. And since 1980, there has been a 20-fold increase in the use of CT scanning and nuclear imaging. Many experts are concerned about this extra burden of radiation.
Because it takes years, if not decades, for medical radiation to cause cancer, these tests pose fewer problems for older people. Exposure to medical radiation earlier in life is more problematic. Until we know more about possible connections between medical radiation and future cancer risk, it's best to keep your exposure as low as possible, notes Harvard Women's Health Watch. Here's how: