Can Radiation From X-Rays and Computed Tomography (CT) Scans Cause Cancer?

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One reasonable concern patients have is that if they go for CAT scans to screen against lung cancer, aren't they exposing themselves to the harms of radiation? This is a reasonable fear because CAT scans inveriably do involve some radiation to the chest. However, it's important to consider that when we walk around we're always exposed to radiation.

CAT scan screening as lung cancer can be done in a low doze protocol. The total number of radiation for the CAT scan for lung cancer screening is about equivalent to that of a cross country flight across the US, there and back. It's important to try to minimize the frequency of these scans so as not to overexpose patients to radiation.

A best knowledge of this risk it can come from this NIH study that looked at CT screening. There was no increase incidence of lung cancer in the patients who went for annual scans compared to those who did not. When it comes to imaging the chest, we try to use the principle of the lowest radiation dose possible.

In general, an X-Rays would be safer than a CAT scan because it's about 1/70 of the radiation from a CAT scan. CAT scans are safe when needed, but they should be minimized. Unfortunately, the imaging test that requires no radiation is an MRI, but MRIs are not that effective at imaging the lungs because the amount of air tissue and air involved..