Patt Morrison for June 14, 2010

Radiating across America: Americans are exposed to the most medical radiation in the world

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Matthew Simmons/Getty Images

Americans are exposed to more medical radiation than others in the world.

Forget cell phones and full-body scanners at the airport, the sources of radiation Americans should be most worried about are the ones we volunteer for at the suggestion of the ones we trust most with our health: our doctors. A new AP report finds that Americans are exposed to the most medical radiation in the world, even more than people in other wealthy countries, because we get far too many imaging tests. They’re over prescribed due to a lack of communication between doctors, fear of malpractice, insurance requirements and ready availability. CT scans and X-rays have soared in use over the past decade, often replacing tests like ultrasounds and MRI’s, which don’t require radiation. No radiation standards currently exist, except for mammograms, although the FDA and a California senator are moving to set up those limits. In light of the nearly 300 patients at Cedars-Sinai last fall who were exposed to radiation doses 8 times higher than intended, how and when will those standards be determined? And how should patients and doctors weigh the risk of forgoing medical tests for fear of overexposure?


Dr. Steven Birnbaum, radiologist at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua and Parkland Medical Center in Derry, New Hampshire

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