Patients advised to question X-ray, CT scan use


Hamburg : A bone fracture, a bad head injury, blocked coronary arteries – these conditions are made visible by X-rays and there’s no doubt the resulting image is extremely useful when properly applied.

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On the other hand X-rays can raise the risk of cancer. Therefore patients are advised to ask critical questions before they undergo an X-ray.

X-rays produce ionised radiation, which also occurs in nature. The effective dose that a human is exposed to is represented by millisieverts, a measure of radiation. The average natural exposure amounts to about 2.1 millisievert per year, according to Germany’s radiation protection bureau in Salzgitter.

By comparison a typical patient who undergoes a CT (computed tomography or CAT scan) of their head receives an effective dose of 2 to 4 millisievert, said radiologist Christoph Heyer of the university clinic at Ruhr University.

While an X-ray exposes the patient to 0.03 to 0.1 millisievert, “this doesn’t mean that patients should take X-rays lightly,” said Heyer.

“Every exposure means there is radiation and there is no bottom limit under which damage can be ruled out,” he said.

“The use of a CT purely for a health check in the absence of clinical symptoms or high risk factors would be completely incorrect,” said Reinhard Loose, head doctor of the Institute for Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology at Nurnberg North Hospital.

Also when a patient has a serious illness they should ask critical questions, said Heyer, adding that too often patients are carelessly transferred to radiology.

According to Wolfram Koenig, president of Germany’s radiation protection bureau, X-ray is used too frequently. Patients can do something about it by asking their doctor to explain the necessity and the risks of an X-ray examination, Koenig advises.

It’s important to let the doctor know about earlier similar examinations and to bring the images to their appointment if possible. In addition, patients should have their doctors issue them a record of their X-rays and bring the document to their doctor visits.