Imaging Tests for You or Your Child
Every person’s health situation is unique, and several factors should be considered
when determining whether a medical imaging procedure is right for you or a family
Many diseases and conditions can be diagnosed with state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging
equipment that uses ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation is a form of energy used
to perform certain diagnostic imaging procedures, like computer tomography (CT)
scans. Still, unnecessary radiation exposure during medical procedures should be
avoided whenever possible. Studies have shown that people exposed to high levels
of ionizing radiation may have an increased risk of cancer.
According to two separate studies on CT scans in the New England Journal of Medicine,
the risk of cancer from a single CT scan could be as high as one in 80. And up to
2 percent of all cancers in the U. S. may be caused by radiation received from CT
scans. A 2009 report on CT scans in the Archives of Internal Medicine said that
29,000 future cancers can be attributed to CT scans performed in just one year (2007).
However, not all imaging procedures require radiation. If your doctor recommends
a CT scan or other test that uses ionizing radiation, ask them if another test,
such as an ultrasound, might be an option for you. A different type of test may
provide your doctor with the information they need.
“There is no question that when used appropriately, diagnostic imaging delivers
tremendous benefit and value,” says Thomas Dehn, M.D., chief medical officer of
the National Imaging Associates. “However, there is no safe or justifiable amount
of radiation from a clinically unnecessary test.”
Medical Diagnostic Imaging Procedures that Use Radiation
- X-rays. X-rays pass through your body to form pictures on film
or on a computer or television monitor, which are viewed by a radiologist.
- CT Scans. Also called computerized tomography or CAT scans. A CT
scan is an X-ray technique that uses higher doses of radiation to produce images
of your body’s internal structures in cross-sections.
- Nuclear Medicine. In nuclear medicine procedures, you are given
a small amount of radioactive material to inhale, inject or swallow. A camera detects
energy given off by the radioactive material in your body and forms a picture of
the organs and their function on a computer monitor.
Medical Diagnostic Imaging Procedures that Do Not Use Radiation
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Also known as MRI, this technique uses
a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues
within your body.
- Ultrasound. Also called sonography or diagnostic medical sonography,
this imaging method uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the structures
within your body.
When Your Child Needs a Scan
Children are generally more sensitive to radiation from medical imaging scans. Image
Gently is a national initiative sponsored by the Alliance for Radiation Safety in
Pediatric Imaging, which was founded by the Society for Pediatric Radiology, the
American College of Radiology, the American Society of Radiologic Technologists,
and the American Association of Physicists in Medicine. Image Gently educates parents
and health care professionals about the special precautions required for children
undergoing radiological imaging.
Image Gently recommends the following when performing scans on children:
- Image when there is a clear medical benefit.
- Use the lowest amount of radiation for adequate imaging based on the size of the
- Image only the indicated area.
- Avoid multiple scans.
- Use alternative diagnostic studies that don’t involve ionizing radiation (such as
ultrasound or MRI) when possible.
Since the Image Gently campaign launched in January 2008, more than 1,400 imaging
providers representing more than 1,000 imaging facilities have taken the Image Gently
pledge to reduce the radiation dose used in pediatric CT scans. For more information,
visit Image Gently.