Several studies have recently investigated the dangers of different radiology scans and the possibility of radiation overexposure. While many of these radiology scans are important diagnostic tools, research has suggested that many physicians are unaware of the dangers of several different scans, or else are poorly informed about the inherent risks.
Radiology scans are an important tool in screening for breast cancer and allowed physicians to diagnose breast cancer much earlier, thereby increasing the cancer patient’s hope of survival. However, depending on the type of radiology exam used the degree of radiation exposure varies drastically. For example, a typical mammogram increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer by 1.3 times per every 1,000 women.
A mammogram is the standard diagnostic exam to diagnose breast cancer, however, there are additional radiology exams that doctors might order if the mammogram fails to provide a clear diagnosis. Of of these exams, the breast-specific gamma imaging (BSGI) increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer by 20 to 30 times and the positron emissions mammography (PEM) increases the risk by 23 times. Also, while radiation exposure during a traditional mammograms only increases the risk of developing breast cancer, the BSGI and PEM also increase the risk of cancer in other major organs, i.e. the bladder, gallbladder, kidneys, etc.
Due to the extremely high risks associated with diagnostic exams like the BSGI and PEM, it is recommended that they are not done unless absolutely necessary and that the physician ordering the exam weighs both the risks and benefits prior to making a decision. However, research has shown that the average physician is not aware of the inherent overexposure risks of different exams and therefore does not take these factors into consideration.
When physicians don’t consider the risks of ordering these high-radiation diagnostic exams when diagnosing breast cancer they run the potential of unnecessarily exposing their patients to high doses of radiation. Because this radiation exposure has been linked to increasing the likelihood of developing both breast cancer and other forms of cancer, the very exam that is supposed to be helping patients could be the cause of their cancer.
In order to help decrease this outcome the medical community seems to be focusing on educating doctors and radiologists about the risks and benefits of a variety of different diagnostic exams, not just those used to diagnose breast cancer. The hope is that physicians will consider ordering these tests on a case by case basis thus ensuring the best outcome for all patients and reducing their risk of overexposure to radiation.
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