National Imaging Associates

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Radiation Awareness Tools

Diagnostic imaging tests, such as x-rays and CT scans, can be extremely valuable in the diagnosis of illness and disease. However, it is important to understand the risks associated with certain medical imaging procedures.

Risks Associated With Diagnostic Medical Imaging

The primary risks associated with diagnostic medical imaging procedures are adverse effects of radiation exposure, which may increase the risk of developing cancer and "false-positive" interpretations. In most cases, the exposure to radiation is generally so small that the risk is far outweighed by the medical benefit of having a needed test. False-positive interpretation of non-significant findings in a diagnostic study however may lead to a series of costly, unnecessary and inconvenient events.

Diagnostic Imaging Tests That Involve Radiation

  • X-rays
  • CT or CAT (computerized tomography) scans
  • Nuclear medicine studies
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scans
  • Bone density scans
  • Mammograms

Diagnostic Imaging Tests That Don't Involve Radiation

  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • MRA (magnetic resonance angiography)
  • Ultrasound (or sonogram)

How Can You Minimize Your Risk?

To help ensure appropriate use of diagnostic imaging, and to minimize your risk, you should:

  • Have an open discussion with your physician. Find out about the risks and benefits associated with the recommended diagnostic imaging procedure. Be sure your doctor knows your diagnostic imaging history (what other scans you have had and when you had them), so he or she can develop the most appropriate diagnostic plan for you.
  • Understand the purpose of the procedure. It is important for you to know why the diagnostic test is being recommended for you. For example, examinations "just to see how things are going," are rarely necessary and run the risk of false-positive interpretation.
  • Select a top-quality imaging facility. Another way to help minimize your risk is to have your imaging procedure at an accredited imaging facility.

The bottom line is that x-rays, CT scans and PET scans involve some potential risk of radiation exposure. At the same time, these imaging tests can be a valuable diagnostic tool for physicians, and the risk is often outweighed by the medical benefit when used appropriately.

You should feel comfortable asking questions and having a discussion with your physician about the risks and benefits of medical imaging. Remember to track your diagnostic imaging tests and share your history with your physician. This record of previous tests can be valuable for understanding your medical history and for managing your radiation history risk over time.

RadZone Kids

radzonekidsRadZoneKids is an easy-to-use community resource to assist parents and caregivers in preparing their children for various diagnostic imaging tests, including CT scans, MRI scans, and X-rays.

The website was designed from a child's perspective, with animated characters, bright colors, easy-to-understand descriptions and an emphasis on learning through simulation and interaction. Children can choose a character and an "adventure" -- a CT scan, MRI scan or an X-ray -- to better understand and visualize what will happen during the actual test. Descriptions of the tests are available in language suitable for children, and there is a parent/caregiver learning section with information about the procedure, as well as questions to ask the child's physician in advance of the test.

"Doctors seek to minimize radiation exposure in their patients," said Michael Pentecost, M.D., chief medical officer of NIA. "If we can help create a better test experience for a child, who may be scared and anxious about things they don't understand, we can hopefully cut down on the number of repeat tests needed."

According to a study published in December 2013 in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, over a nine-year observation period, the likelihood of a child having a CT procedure increased by 34% and the likelihood of a child having an MRI procedure increased by 84%.

"When used appropriately, these tests can help diagnose and treat patients in a way other methods cannot," said Pentecost. "Ensuring that children know what to expect, and parents and caregivers know what questions to ask are critical parts of this process, and can help lead to potentially better test quality."

Radiation Calculator

jessicaDid you know that every exposure to radiation adds up over time? NIA's new Radiation Calculator can help you estimate the radiation dose from the medical tests you've had. Jessica will help you as you enter the necessary information and then see how your results compare to other types of radiation exposure. Click the Radiation Calculator button to get started.