What are the Risks of Medical Imaging?

Risks associated with medical imaging are a small increase in the chance that a person exposed to X-rays will develop cancer later in life, as well as tissue effects such as cataracts, skin redness, and hair loss. These effects occur at relatively high levels of radiation exposure and are rare in many types of imaging exams. It is important to discuss any concerns you have with your doctor before undergoing any medical procedure. Medical professionals are trained to keep doses for patients as low as possible (ALARA) when it comes to diagnostic imaging procedures that use ionizing radiation, such as computed tomography, fluoroscopy, and conventional X-ray imaging.

Nuclear medicine is the medical specialty that uses radiopharmaceuticals (radioactive drugs) to show how an organ works. Medical professionals are advised to optimize doses, which means using the least amount of radiation needed to provide adequate image quality or diagnostic imaging guidance (in the case of fluoroscopy). Computed tomography and nuclear imaging have revolutionized diagnosis and treatment, and have almost eliminated the need for exploratory surgery, which were once common, and many other invasive and potentially risky procedures. If your doctor recommends a CT scan or a nuclear medicine scan, ask if another technique might work, such as a lower-dose X-ray or a test that doesn't use radiation, such as ultrasound (which uses high-frequency sound waves) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The contribution of medical radiographs to the average radiation dose of the population has increased in recent decades, as more sophisticated diagnostic imaging tests become available; this is especially true in the case of computed tomography. Recent articles in scientific literature predict thousands of new types of cancer caused by the use of computed tomography and other radiation-based imaging, but those predictions are obtained by multiplying the large number of diagnostic imaging procedures in large populations by the small presumed risk of developing cancer associated with a diagnostic imaging study. Radiology is the medical specialty that uses X-rays, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to produce images or images that help diagnose diseases or injuries, or guide procedures that treat the disease or condition. Exposure to ionizing radiation from natural or background sources hasn't changed since approximately 1980, but Americans' total per capita exposure to radiation has nearly doubled, and experts believe the main reason is the increased use of medical imaging.

The goal of diagnostic radiology is to provide the radiologist or nuclear medicine specialist (medical specialists) with images of a high enough quality so that they can communicate the test results to the doctor in order to help him understand and explain his medical problem or symptom and confirm the presence or absence of a disease or injury. High exposures to ionizing radiation carry other risks, but these are not expected at the dose levels used in diagnostic imaging. The risk of death from smoking, for example, kills 440,000 Americans every year, a proven death toll that is much higher and easily reversible if a man-made product that produces no medical benefit is produced. The benefits of these tests, when appropriate, far outweigh any radiation-associated cancer risk, and the risk of a single CT scan or nuclear imaging test is quite small.

If you need a CT scan or a nuclear scan to treat or diagnose a medical condition, the benefits often outweigh the risks.

Lucas Clark
Lucas Clark

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