A National Council on Radiation Protection & Measurements report released earlier this month is part of a growing body of literature showing the U.S. populations radiation exposure has increased significantly in recent decades because of greater use of medical-imaging procedures. But, some critics of the report say it and similar studies have done little to quantify and shed light on the health risks associated with that increased exposure.
Use with caution
Imaging contributes to radiation exposure: study
The study, Ionizing Radiation Exposure of the Population of the United States, found Americans were exposed to seven times more radiation from medical procedures in 2006 than was the case during the early 1980s.
Overall, medical-imaging procedures accounted for nearly half of the U.S. populations total radiation exposure in 2006, the study found. I think the message that should be conveyed is that, No. 1, we know X-rays are carcinogens, so the procedure should only be used when there is a clear benefit to the patient, said David Schauer, executive director of the radiation council.
Steve Amis, past president of the American College of Radiology, agreed, but added that while the studys numbers are sobering they provide no measure of any additional health risks that may be associated with increased radiation exposure. The only risk-assessment numbers that we have are historical data based on survivors of the atomic bomb attack in Japan and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown in the Ukraine, Amis said.
Studies have shown that the victims of those incidents who were exposed to more than 50 millisieverts of radiationthe equivalent of five computed tomography scanswere more likely to develop cancer 10 or more years later. But Amis said that researchers have not been able to pinpoint whether those cancers were the result of radiation.
We dont want to frighten the population away from valuable imaging studies, said Amis, who acknowledged concerns over how payers and patients might interpret the studys findings. We want to assure that these studies are appropriately used, he added.
But while health-insurance companies are likely to take note of the study, Susan Pisano, a spokeswoman for the industry advocacy group Americas Health Insurance Plans, said she doubted the single study would significantly influence payers current reimbursement policies for CT, nuclear scans and other imaging procedures that involve radiation exposure. I think the community will welcome the report: Weve been very focused on appropriate use of and safety of imaging, she said.
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