Americans were exposed to seven times more radiation from medical procedures in 2006 than was the case during the early 1980s, according to a new National Council on Radiation Protection & Measurements study called Ionizing Radiation Exposure of the Population of the United States.
The increase was due mostly to the higher utilization of computed tomography and nuclear medicine scans, said council Senior Vice President Kenneth Kase. These two imaging modalities alone contribute 36% of the total radiation exposure and 75% of the medical radiation exposure of the U.S. population. Overall, medical imaging procedures accounted for nearly half of the U.S. populations total radiation exposure in 2006, the study found. Other sources included radon gas, natural radiation in soil and rocks, and radiation from industrial activities.
In a news release responding to the study, the American College of Radiology and three other imaging societies sought to downplay the findings, noting that the report failed to provide a measurement of the increased health risks associated with the greater levels of exposure.
It is essential that this report not be interpreted solely as an increase in risk to the U.S. population without carefully considering the tremendous and undeniable benefits of medical imaging, said James Thrall, chairman of the ACRs Board of Chancellors. The group also suggested that the rising numbers of imaging referrals by nonradiologist providers who own imaging equipment may be significantly responsible for the increase in medical-related radiation exposure and the number of patients referred for inappropriate imaging procedures.