Medical x-rays are used to diagnose fractures and diseases. They are a valuable part of our medical care, providing information to your doctor needed to properly care for you. But we know that x-rays and other medical diagnosing tools, including bone scans and CT scans, contain radiation and that radiation can be harmful. Does getting medical x-rays contribute to cancer? Can they cause skin cancer? According to the American Cancer Society, the risk of cancer from the exposure to these types of tests is small.
In recent years, the number of diagnostic medical tests as increased, both because there are more tests available and because they have become a mainstream part of everyday medical care. Some are used as screening, such as for breast cancer or osteoporosis. Others are used on a routine basis to diagnose various aches and pains throughout the body.
While these types of medical tests do present a small risk of causing cancer, it would take many years and many x-rays for cancer to develop. Radiation exposure is measured in millirem (mrem). Each year, we each receive between 300 and 600 mrem – the average is 360 mrem. For example, watching television exposes you to 1 mrem, if you have natural gas in your home, you are exposed to 9 mrem per year.
The following provides an estimate of the mrem count for some standard diagnostic tools
Hand or foot
CT scan – full body
Medical professionals, your doctor and radiology technicians, are fully aware of the risks associated with diagnostic tests. They are careful to expose you to the smallest amount of radiation needed to perform the test. Equipment is turned on only for a short amount of time and the technicians are careful to expose only the area of your body being tested.
Young children are more at risk than adults, therefore, doctors are cautious when requesting these types of tests. They carefully weigh the benefits and the risks, and if the benefits (learning what is causing the problem) are considered to outweigh the risks, the test is ordered.
If you want to calculate how much radiation you are exposed to on a regular basis, the United. States Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a Personal Annual Radiation Calculator.
“Radiation and Risk,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Idaho State University
“Radiation Exposure and Cancer,” Reviewed 2010, March 29, Staff Writer, American Cancer Society
Published On: January 21, 2014