Everyone is exposed to radiation in daily life. It’s a part of living on our planet. As radiologists, we are schooled in managing radiation in the imaging of patients.
There are many indications for the use of imaging studies using radiation to image the body - from finding fractures to finding cancers. Your referring clinician and your radiologist constantly weigh the pluses/minuses of using radiation in order to answer a clinical question. There are imaging techniques such as ultrasound and MRI which do NOT use radiation. As radiologists, one of our jobs after it has been determined that an imaging test is necessary is to make sure the radiation dose is appropriate - using the least possible dose to answer the question.
Radiation Exposure Is Measured and Focused
The pioneers of radiology faced the dangers of radiation without knowledge of its strength - many of those pioneers died from the effects of the radiation on their bodies . As the field of study evolved, radiation was over-used to treat benign conditions, like acne… and even initially for non-medical things like shoe-sizing (no kidding). The negative effects of large doses of radiation were soon recognized, and management of radiation dose is an integral part of the training of today’s radiologists and radiology technologists.
Radiologists regularly work with physicists to assess and address dose. Together, we wrote this: What Does Radiation Safety Mean to DIC?
Exposure Doesn’t Always Mean Cancer Risk Increase
Modern techniques focus on limiting radiation to the area being examined and using the lowest dose possible to get the images needed to make the diagnosis. These principles govern our use of radiation in imaging. For almost all, imaging tests and the radiation from them will NOT have a detrimental effect. The risk of developing cancer from radiation related to medical imaging is theoretic - and most of the information has been extrapolated or guessed at from dose and information related to survivors of the atomic bombs.
Radiation Therapy Is a Different Story
Radiation therapy to the body to treat malignancies is a different story – here larger doses of radiation are being used to destroy a cancer -and save a life. Radiation oncologists make every effort to limit the field of radiation to the area of cancer, sparing adjacent tissues whenever possible. Some sensitive tissues may be in the field of view. For example, if the breasts are in the field of radiation, there may be an increase in the risk for breast cancer. This is why patients with Hodgkin’s lymphoma with treatment with radiation to the chest are recommended to screen with breast MRI 10 years after completion of radiation therapy. This will supplement mammographic screening (starting at the usual age) in these patients. Other sensitive tissues and the risks of radiation therapy to them should be discussed with your physician and radiation oncologist.
In summary, radiation is never used lightly. As radiologists, we work carefully with a dedicated team and look at the big picture of your overall good health. Your best possible health is our number one priority.
Originally published 3/18/14 on diagnosticimagingcenterskc.com.