Medical Imaging Safety

Medical X-rays are used in many types of examinations and procedures. Some examples include

  • X-ray radiography (to find orthopedic damage, tumors, pneumonias, foreign objects, etc);
  • Mammography (to image the internal structures of breasts)
  • CT (computed tomography) (to produce cross-sectional images of the body)
  • Fluoroscopy (to dynamically visualize the body for example to see where to remove plaque from coronary arteries or where to place stents to keep those arteries open)
  • Radiation therapy in cancer treatment.

In addition, many industries and institutions use X-rays:

  • To examine constructed materials.
  • To conduct sample analyses.
  • For security purposes such as baggage screening.

Risks of X-Rays

X-rays can help detect diseases and health conditions but they also have a small potential to harm living tissue. The most significant risks are:

  • A small increase in the possibility that a person exposed to X-rays will develop cancer later in life; and
  • Cataracts and skin burns at very high levels of radiation exposure.

The risk of developing cancer from radiation exposure is generally small and depends on at least three factors - the amount of radiation dose, the age at exposure, and the sex of the person exposed:

  • The lifetime risk of cancer increases the larger the dose and the more X-ray exams a patient undergoes.
  • The lifetime risk of cancer is larger for a patient who received X-rays at a younger age than for one who receives them at an older age.
  • Women are at a somewhat higher lifetime risk than men for developing radiation-associated cancer after receiving the same exposures at the same ages.

Help Protect Your Health

To help protect your health:

  • Be sure to tell the doctor or technologist if you are, or might be, pregnant before having an exam.
  • Don't insist on an imaging exam if the doctor explains there is no need for it.
  • Don't refuse an imaging exam if there's a clear need for it and the clinical benefit outweighs the small radiation risk.

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Healthcare Quality Regulations & Licensing