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The use of scans and imaging in the field of medicine is done to create images of the human body in order to diagnose, reveal or examine a disease.

Radiation Exposure on the Rise

The field of biological imaging incorporates medical photography, radiology (X-rays), nuclear medicine, investigative radiological sciences, endoscopy, thermography and microscopy.  Other measurement and recording techniques also incorporated in the field include; magnetoencephalography (MEG), electroencephalography (EEG) and electrocardiography (EKG) and computerized tomography (CAT or CT scans).

A recent report released by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, found that people in the United States are exposed to seven times more radiation now, than in the 1980’s.  The report highlighted concerns that physicians are ordering too many radiological screens for patients, which increases the risk of exposure to toxic radiation.  Medical imaging procedures accounted for more than half of America’s population total radiation exposure in 2006, with radon gas, natural radiation in the soil and rocks and industrial radiation being responsible for the rest.

The use of radiological medical scanning is important for discovering a variety of different health conditions and diseases, but an increase in exposure to radiation also increases the risk of a person developing cancer.  The National Cancer Institute noted a dramatic 6% annual increase in the rates of thyroid cancer diagnosis since 2006.  American researchers believe that too many medical scans during childhood may be a factor, while some studies believe a poor diet and inadequate iodine levels can also play a significant role.  Scientists are trying to locate a link between increased radiation exposure and thyroid cancer, the topic is currently being studied to provide a better understanding of the relationship.

Repeated exposure to radiation can lead to DNA damage

Repeated exposure to radiation can lead to deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) damage, which can cause cellular mutation and lead to the formation of cancer.  With the advances made in the field of medical imaging, patients are being routinely exposed to high levels of radiation.  The risk of developing cancer is particularly high in those patients who receive multiple CT scan, and people are being exposed to unnecessary doses of radiation when undergoing radiation treatment for cancer.  A medical study involving 31,642 patients over a 22-year period, found that those who received more CT scans had a 12% increase in overall rates of cancer diagnosis.

Harvard University researchers noted that cumulative exposure to radiation from medical imaging procedures such as CT scans increases the risk of cancer by as much as 12%.  CT scans are used as a diagnostic tool for making an accurate diagnosis of many diseases, cancer being one of them.  However, CT scans use a higher radiation dose than other imaging tests and over time the risks add up and can make the person experience a higher than average risk for developing cancer.


Medical imaging plays a vital role in the medical field when it comes to diagnosing, examining and treating diseases.  However, with all the research indicating repeated radiation exposure can increase the risk of cancer, it is important for scientists to find effective ways to reduce the amount of radiation a patient is exposed too.  As a patient, it is a good idea to ask the physician if certain tests involving radiation are safe and to search for facilities that use lower levels of radiation during a medical imaging procedure, to decrease the risk of developing cancer due to overexposure to radiation.


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