Medical Scans Pose Radiation Threat

Although radiation seems to be everywhere, according to the Associated Press (AP), from “airport scanners, power lines, cell phones … microwaves,” the worst comes from <"">medical scans, with Americans receiving the largest quantities. Americans account for a half of the more sophisticated medical procedures utilizing radiation, said the AP.

The typical American receives radiation doses six times greater than in previous decades, said the AP, which noted that too much radiation increases cancer risks. And, the risk is increasing because the incidence of imaging tests is increasing, said the AP. In one case, one teenager received a massive 14 CT scans for kidney stone diagnoses when his radiologist, Dr. Steven Birnbaum, put a stop to the dangerous screening tests saying, “I was horrified” at the cancer risk it posed, quoted the AP.

Dr. Birnbaum asked the two hospitals where he works to look for patients who underwent 10 or more CT scans, or patients under the age of 40 who underwent five, all pointing to dangerous levels, said the AP. The hospitals found 50 people in three years exceeded these amounts, including one woman who underwent 31 abdominal scans, said the AP.

One problem, said the AP, is that imaging, which is quick and detailed, has increased significantly in the past 10 years, many times in favor of ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which do not use radiation. Radiation exposure does not cause pain and damage does not generally show up immediately; its effects accumulate over time, explained the AP. Also, the only testing on which there are federal rules on radiation dosing are mammograms, but sometimes imaging centers are not adjusting for patient’s size, which can result in over and under dosing, noted the AP.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials said in interviews with the AP, that processes are being considered, such as mandating device manufacturers to print radiation doses on images so patients and physicians can see what amounts were used and working to have industry and physicians set standard doses for testing.

“We are considering requirements and guidelines for record-keeping of dose and other technical parameters of the imaging exam,” said Sean Boyd, chief of the FDA’s diagnostic devices branch, quoted the AP. Initially, a “radiation medical record” would track radiation doses for life, said the AP. “One of the ways we could improve care is if we had a running sort of Geiger counter” that a doctor checked before ordering a test, said Dr. Prashant Kaul of Duke University, reported the AP.

The AP wrote that overuse occurs for a wide variety of reasons including that doctors rely on testing to double- and triple-check treatment plans; fear of malpractice lawsuits; pressure from patients seeking action; disorganization; insurance problems, including that insurers demand testing; lack of nonradiation tests; and treatment choices that involve more radiation tests.

We recently wrote the President’s Cancer Panel (PCP) stated that the link between environmental carcinogens and cancers are much greater than ever realized, pointing to the huge increase in exposure to medical radiation. The PCP report pointed out that medical radiation exposure increased from 15 percent in the 1980s to a whopping 48 percent today, wrote While imaging has helped in the fight against cancer, said the PCP, the increased exposure experienced in recent years is worrisome. As an example, the group said that a typical “organ dose range for computed tomography (CT),” when considering multiple scans and operator administration, “is 5-100 mSv,” which is the same as the doses an “average Hiroshima bomb drop survivor who stood several thousand yards from ground zero” experienced, said DotMed.

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