It’s not so much the cell phone, the power lines or the microwave oven. It’s modern medicine.
Do you really need that PET scan, CT scan, or x-ray? How will the results alter the course of treatment? Those are questions you should be asking your doctor.
The increased risk of cancer from radiation exposure to any single test is small, but the risk of cancer increases as the dose of radiation increases.
The Associated Press (AP) reports that nobody in the world is exposed to more medical radiation than people in the United States, accounting for half of all medical procedures that use radiation. How much radiation we receive has grown by six times over the last several decades.
There are no federal rules on radiation dose, except for mammograms, and no one is really keeping track of the amount of radiation patients receive. Children and young women sometimes get too much when imaging centers don’t adjust for patient size.
According to The American Cancer Society
In general, the risk of cancer from radiation exposure increases as the dose of radiation increases. The types of cancer linked to radiation are also affected by the part of the body that is exposed. For example, people who get pelvic radiation therapy would not be expected to have higher rates of cancers in the head and neck because these areas weren’t exposed to radiation.
The increased risk of cancer from exposure to any single test is likely to be very small. Still, concerns have been raised in recent years as the average amount of radiation a person is exposed to from medical tests has risen. Children’s growing bodies are especially sensitive to radiation.
Because of the very small but real risk, and the fact that radiation exposure from all sources can add up over one’s lifetime, imaging tests that use radiation should only be done if there is a good medical reason to do so. The usefulness of the test must always be balanced against the possible risks from exposure to the radiation. In some cases, other imaging tests such as ultrasound or MRI may be an option. But if there is a reason to believe that an x-ray or CT scan is the best way to look for cancer or other diseases, the patient will most likely be helped more than the small dose of radiation can hurt.
Doctors fearing malpractice lawsuits and insurers requiring such tests are part of the reason for over use.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is pushing for industry standards on common tests.
In the meantime, if falls on patients to be the squeaky wheel and ask the question. Do I really need this test?
Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to BlatantNews.com