X-rays and CT scans expose some Americans to radiation levels comparable to working in a nuclear power plant. Are such scans worth it?
Reza Fazel of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and colleagues looked at health insurance records for over 650,000 people who had at least one imaging procedure in a three-year period. Most received low doses of radiation, but around 2 per cent got doses equal to or above the suggested yearly exposure for someone working in a nuclear power plant (The New England Journal of Medicine, vol 361, p 849). Fazel says further studies are needed to work out if such medical scans benefit or damage health overall.
Some patients got doses above the suggested levels for someone working in a nuclear power plant
Commenting on the research, radiologist James Thrall at Harvard Medical School points to a recent study reporting that medical imaging accounted for a one-year rise in life expectancy in the US between 1991 and 2004.