Too Much Radiation?

Radiologists are raising the alarm over the excessive use of diagnostic medical imaging, which they say both drives up the cost of health care and exposes people to unnecessary radiation.

Americans annual radiation dose from medical procedures increased sevenfold between 1980 and 2006 and now accounts for nearly half of the public s total radiation exposure, according to the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements.

Writing in Radiology, the radiologists call for a national strategy to reduce unnecessary medical imaging, such as a national evidence-based criteria for imaging and smart electronic systems to guide doctors ordering scans.

I think this is remarkable it s like surgeons calling for less surgery, says Stier. Usually you d see people defend their practice, but radiologists on the front lines say there s too much radiology being practiced. They re saying, we re having doctors send us patients who don t need these exams. One reason for all the excessive testing may be part of defensive medicine due to a fear of litigation and I think it s laudable for radiologists to speak out about this.

While diagnostic testing has saved many lives, the danger in cumulative excess radiation is real, Stier adds. Another new study in Radiology said one of the most sophisticated breast cancer imaging tests, breast-specific gamma imaging, raised a woman s lifetime risk of cancer 20 to 30 times more than standard mammography.

I think the message for patients is to always ask, Why am I getting this test? Is it necessary? says Stier.