Medical Testing Using Radiation and Cancer Risk

OncoLink Team
Last Modified: February 12, 2018

Radiology tests and procedures can expose a person to radiation. The amount of radiation varies depending on the test and what is being imaged. Some tests, such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and ultrasound, use no radiation at all. Over time, exposure to this radiation can increase the risk of developing cancer.

While there have not been studies following people over time to assess for cancer risk, there are plenty of studies on the amount of radiation received in various tests and a model (called BEIR VII) that calculates how that may result in increased cancer risk.

So, how many tests is too many? Here is where it gets sticky. The amount of radiation from one scan can vary from machine to machine, even within one institution, depending on the radiologists' protocol, whether repeat pictures are taken of an area for clarity, etc. Different scans have different levels of radiation; for example, a CT scan exposes you to much less radiation than an angiogram of the arteries in your heart.

What it comes down to is a discussion between you and your healthcare provider when a scan is ordered. Is this test necessary? What will we learn from it and will this change our treatment plan? Weigh the risks and benefits and make an informed decision with each te

Learn more about radiology testing and cancer risk from the American College of Radiology, Food & Drug Administration and the American Cancer Society.

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