Why are people concerned about radiation exposure from medical tests?

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There's a very small amount of radiation patients receive during medical tests, so people shouldn't worry, says Thelma Reeves, Director of Women's Diagnostics at West Hills Hospital & Medical Center. Learn more in this video.
Ionizing radiation exposure can cause a number of health problems. It can increase a person’s lifetime risk of cancer. Additionally, it can result in tissue damage if one area of the body receives a high dose. A third concern is that radiation exposure can harm a fetus if a pregnant woman is exposed. (If you are or may be pregnant, be sure to notify your physician/practitioner before any tests using radiation are performed.)
 
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for example, a CT scan of some portion of the body resulting in a 10 mSv dose is believed to increase the risk of fatal cancer by 1 in 2000. The risk of fatal cancer in the United States overall is 1 in 5. So while the CT scan will raise cancer risk, it does so at a rate that is very small compared to the existing risk. Another way of thinking about it is that the CT scan dose is less than what the average American will be exposed to from background radiation over a period of 4 years.
 
However, while one test that uses radiation may not raise cancer risk substantially, cumulative lifetime radiation dose matters. Risk for cancer increases as a person is exposed to radiation over years and a lifetime, not just in single instances of exposure.
 
If you have already had a number of radiation-based imaging tests in the past (x-rays, CT scans, etc.), you should make sure your physician is aware of this. You may also want to keep a list of tests you have undergone as part of a personal medical history file that you can keep at home for reference.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.