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Radiation From Medical Scans Soaring
Date:10/27/2009

Americans now get 6-fold more exposure than in 1980, researchers say

TUESDAY, Oct. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Americans' exposure to radiation from medical procedures has exploded over the past few decades, to six times the level of 1980, a new report shows.

In 2006, almost 380 million diagnostic and interventional radiological procedures were performed in the United States, on top of 18 million nuclear medicine examinations.

"Back in about 1980, 15 percent of radiation that the U.S. population got was from medicine and the rest was predominantly from natural background radiation," noted Dr. Fred Mettler Jr., U.S. Representative to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation and a professor of radiology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. "In the last 20 years, medical exposure has gone up between 600 and 700 percent from what it was, and it is now the biggest source of radiation to the U.S. population."

"The issue," Mettler continued, "is that this is a controllable source. We regulate the effluent from nuclear power plants so the public doesn't get exposure but medical exposure is essentially unregulated. The largest source in the U.S. is essentially unregulated, and it's up to your family doctor or any other doctor to hand it out."

Mettler is lead author of a paper appearing in the November issue of Radiology that summarizes the conclusions of two previous reports on radiation sources in the U.S. Those reports were issued by the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements and the United Nations Scientific Committee on Effects of Atomic Radiation.

The findings are in line with previous studies, one of which attributed up to two percent of all cancers to CT scans alone and another which concluded that cumulative exposure to radiation from CT scans increases the risk for malignancy by as much as 12 percent.

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