Risk and Reward: Balancing Radiation and Patient Health

In all medical practices and especially in radiology, patient health should be at the forefront of every procedure and act. As imaging technology continues to develop, an important question arises: is enough being done to safeguard the patient during treatment? Specifically, are the doses of radiation given through imaging minimized so that the patient is sufficiently cared for without causing further problems? To us at Pacific Healthcare Imaging, we consider these questions vital as radiology has become inseparable to modern medicine.

The ALARA Principle

Radiology Today describes in a recent article an important principle to radiation called the ALARA principle, which is an acronym for “as low as reasonably achievable”. Discovering a balance between risk and reward for radiology can and should be accomplished by consistently updating best practices and procedures as the technology continues to improve. Whenever x-rays or CT scans are done, they are ordered because the potential benefits (i.e. the treatment of the patient’s immediately health problem) outweigh the problems radiation presents. For patients with reoccurring problems, however, the risk of repeated scans could raise the chances of developing cancer later in life. In small doses, the body is usually able to recover from radiation, but even repeated small doses can do irreversible damage to cells.

The National Cancer Institute determined in that the 72 million CT scans performed in 2007 could lead to as many as 29,000 cases of cancer in the future. According to David J. Brenner PhD, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center in an interview with Time magazine, research has shown that about a third of CT scans are clinically unnecessary when other means of imaging (like ultrasound) could be used.

The Greater Benefits

This isn’t to say that CT scans and other radiological imaging methods are too dangerous to use. On the contrary, such scans can help detect and treat many life-threatening conditions, including cancer itself. In truth, all of us live regularly with low doses of radiation from sources like the sun or radon gas. We receive about 3 millisieverts (mSv) of radiation a year, where an x-ray will give you about ten days’ worth of radiation. CT scans, on the other hand, will give about two years’ worth of radiation (about 7 mSv). For medical caregivers, it’s all about understanding the risks and taking the appropriate actions and precautions for each patient.

Pacific Healthcare Imaging is here to aid doctors, clinics, and hospitals in providing a better level of care to their patients through the latest imaging technology on the market. Take a look at our inventory of new and used C-arms and MRI machines, and let us how we can assist you today.