Although small amounts of ionizing radiation may increase a person's lifetime risk of cancer slightly, the imaging tests that incorporate this methodology save the lives of millions of people each year.
Ask the Doctor
Richard Wasley, M.D., medical director of radiology at Orange Coast Memorial, discusses what you need to know about these tests.
Q. What imaging tests involve the use of ionizing radiation?
A. The three tests that account for the greatest total radiation exposure in the United States are CT scans, nuclear medicine studies and fluoroscopy—a special kind of X-ray that allows doctors to see the internal organs in motion.
Q. Are there risks related to these tests?
A. Generally, there is little concern that a single diagnostic test will cause harm. However, there is growing concern about the cumulative effect of these procedures as more and more Americans receive multiple tests that utilize ionizing radiation.
Q. What can patients do to reduce their exposure to ionizing radiation?
A. Keep track of your imaging exams and share this information with your doctor. This will help you avoid over-testing, particularly if the same part of the body is involved.
Q. Are there any other ways patients can reduce their radiation burden?
A. When you must be tested, ask your doctor if an exam such as an MRI or ultrasound—neither of which utilizes ionizing radiation—would be sufficient.
Q. What about staffing?
A. Staffing is critically important in a state-of-the-art imaging center—and subspecialization is essential. For example, at Orange Coast Memorial, all breast imaging studies, including mammograms, breast ultrasounds and breast MRIs, are interpreted by board-certified radiologists who subspecialize in breast imaging. The team of board-certified radiologists at Orange Coast Memorial also includes doctors with subspecialty training in vascular/interventional radiology, musculoskeletal imaging, body imaging, neuroradiology, nuclear medicine, cardiovascular radiology and other fields. They're supported by a team of certified technologists with many years of experience in their respective areas of expertise.
Q. Are there any other factors to consider when choosing an imaging center?
A. Selecting a state-of-the-art imaging center can go a long way to ensure patient safety. For example, Orange Coast Memorial's imaging facility is located in the hospital's comfortable and convenient outpatient pavilion, which is furnished with leading-edge equipment. This includes a 64-slice CT scanner, an advanced MRI scanner, digital mammography, a PET/CT scanner and low-dose spiral CT. The close collaboration of doctors at Orange Coast Memorial, combined with the use of electronic medical records, ensures that patients' testing histories are consolidated and accurate—an invaluable asset in keeping cumulative radiation exposure within acceptable levels.