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UH Department of Radiology Maximizes Safety and Efficiency

When radiologists take images inside a patient’s body, they are able to detect and diagnose diseases and injuries quickly and accurately. This helps get the patient the right treatment as soon as possible. X-ray and nuclear medicine studies use small amounts of radiation. Most radiation experts believe it is best to use the smallest amount of radiation possible, since large amounts of radiation are harmful, but there is no proof that the small amounts used in medical imaging can cause any ill effects.

The physicians at University Hospitals Department of Radiology, part of University Hospitals Diagnostic Institute, carefully administer radiation dosage. We use the smallest amount possible while ensuring physicians receive a clear image and can easily identify any abnormalities.

Natural Exposure to Radiation

Our environment contains sources of natural radiation that expose us to background radiation all the time. The following table shows approximately how radiation doses from medical procedures compare to background radiation dose amounts.

Procedure Background Radiation
Chest X-ray 2 days
Skull X-ray 3 days
Lumbar spine 3 months
CT of head 8 months
CT of abdomen 3 years
CT of sinus 3 months
Mammogram 15 days
DEXA 1 week
Bone scan 18 months
Heart 3 years
PET scan 28 months

Radiology Expertise and Experience

To maintain high image quality, diagnostic accuracy, and low radiation doses during radiological procedures, UH Department of Radiology establishes high standards for its personnel and equipment. The staff must be highly trained and properly licensed or certified by state and national bodies. Individuals must also undergo periodic re-education.

All equipment and protocols are monitored on a regular basis to verify that they comply with minimum federal and state standards. Preventive maintenance is also carried out regularly. Also, our equipment and services are accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR) which ensures that our practice meets current standards for quality and safety. ACR accreditation means that UH equipment and practices meet the ACR guidelines and that independent physicians and scientists have reviewed our actual clinical results for proper image quality and radiation dose.

University Hospitals doesn’t just follow the guidelines – our radiology team members work with experts around the world to update them and drive them forward. Our physicians and scientists are active in national and international professional associations aimed at improving quality and safety in medical imaging. Our radiologists and technologist are regularly invited to teach, speak and write about their efforts, and the results, to help improve care for all patients – including our own.

Common Questions about Radiation

Does radiation cause cancer?
Only high radiation doses are known to increase the likelihood of getting cancer, but not by much. For instance, follow-up studies of 82,000 exposed Japanese A-bomb survivors have produced an estimated 250 radiation-induced cancers. Low doses have not been proven to cause cancer, but for safety concerns, we still try to keep radiation exposure to a minimum.

Is it true that little is known about the effects of radiation, other than that it is very dangerous?
This is untrue. We probably know more about radiation than any other agent that causes cancer (carcinogen) or mutations (mutagen), physical or chemical. Experience goes back about 80 years and the information is probably better documented than that for any other carcinogen. Radiation is, in fact, a relatively weak carcinogen and mutagen.

Can radiation exposure from a diagnostic radiologic procedure be more dangerous than the associated illness?
This is almost always untrue. For a patient undergoing a diagnostic radiologic procedure, the benefits of the procedure are much greater than the risks.

After being X-rayed for a diagnostic examination, how much radiation stays in my body?
No X-rays remain in your body. The X-rays are gone as soon as the X-ray machine shuts off, just as the light from a light bulb vanishes when someone switches it off.
X-rays must not be confused with radioactivity, where the radiation slowly decreases with time. If a patient undergoes a procedure in nuclear medicine, some radiation will remain in his or her body. It will disappear after one or two days.

I have had several X-ray exams over the past couple of years. Will this sterilize me?
No. The radiation dose required to sterilize (500-600 rems) is at least a factor of 100 larger than the gonadal radiation exposure from even several X-ray exams, even if the exams are directly of the gonadal area. If the X-ray exams are directed at other regions, the radiation exposure to the gonads is even less.

What is background radiation?
Background radiation is radiation from natural sources and is present at very low levels all the time. Its intensity varies from place to place – part of it comes from the sun and outer space, and part of it comes from tiny amounts of radioactive materials which are always present in the earth, buildings around us and even in our bodies. Manmade sources, such as radioactivity in consumer products, radioactive fall-out from past nuclear explosions and nuclear power add a small amount to our background. Two to three days of background radiation are equivalent to one chest X-ray.

Are there additional resources that talk about radiation safety?
Yes. Radiologyinfo.org is a great resource for patient education and radiation safety information, and the Image Gently Alliance specializes in pediatric imaging safety, providing extensive information for parents of pediatric radiology patients.

You can also visit “Ask the Experts” maintained by the Health Physics Society and Radiation Answers, both of which are reliable sources.