Doctors at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have grown concerned over the amount of radiation Americans are incurring over a lifetime. Because of this, they will begin to record the amount of radiation patients receive from such procedures as CT scans in their electronic medical records. The concern arose after a study in the December issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine estimated that radiation from the procedures, which has risen drastically in the past few years, causes about 29,000 new cancers and 14,500 deaths annually. Another study in the Archive showed the problem could be even worse since patients are getting four times more imaging than previously believed. It also says children are especially vulnerable because they are small and still growing.
The exposures in the study do not include the rare cases of machine malfunction or human error that cause patients to be exposed to more radiation than they should. While most machines do function properly, hospitals rarely record how much radiation a patient receives; the amount of radiation may vary depending on the size of the patient and what area of the body is being scanned. Now at the NIH, physicians will record how much radiation the patient received so the patient can take that information with them. If other hospitals follow suit, the information will enable researchers to compare the cancer risks of patients who receive high levels of radiation to those who receive low levels of radiation. The NIH alone would not be able to provide the appropriate data because they do not treat enough patients.