Risky Radiation: How Much is Too Much?

Risky-RadiationFrom the Winter 2013 StayHealthy publication

Porter recently updated CT scanners throughout the Health Care System to units that significantly reduce dose radiation.

Why is this important, and how does it directly impact patient safety? Here’s what we found out.

Q: What is a CT scan? Is it different than a MRI?

A: Both the CT (sometimes referred to as a C.A.T. Scan) and MRI are exceptional diagnostic tools, but they are used to gather different types of information. CT stands for computed tomography. This sophisticated and very useful imaging option uses x-ray technology to get detailed, 3-D images of certain parts of the body, such as bones, and they are good for examining the skull, sinuses, chest, abdomen and pelvis. An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), uses radio waves and magnets and is most commonly used to examine the central nervous system and soft tissues of the body. MRIs can produce images of tumors in the brain, the cranial nerve, joints, and any area where tumors in the soft tissues may exist.

Q: Does a CT scan expose a patient to radiation?

A: Yes, but here’s the good news. New technology has led to the development of a low-dose CT scanner and, Porter is the first health care system in the area to replace all of its CT scanners at all facilities with low-dose scanners. This includes the machines at Porter Regional Hospital, the Portage Hospital and Valparaiso Medical Center.

Q: How much lower is low dose?

A: A study by the National Institute of Health states that patients should not be exposed to unnecessary radiation. Depending on why the CT scan is being performed, patients at Porter are now receiving 40 to 60 percent less exposure to radiation from the scan than reference levels used by the National Council on Radiation Protection. Some patients, like those receiving follow-up care for cancer treatment, may require multiple scans within the same year. In these cases, low-dose CT technology is even more critical.

Q: Does low dose mean lower quality images?

A: Not at all. Porter has a 64-slice and two 16-slice low-dose CT scanners, and the new technology produces high-quality diagnostic information from every scan. A CT scan requires a certain amount of radiation to pass through the body to create a clear image, so just lowering the amount would not work well. With the new advanced software, the grainy quality of the images is decreased as the images are being processed.

Q: I’ve had a CT scan in the past. Should I be concerned?

A: The effects of radiation are cumulative, which means that the amount of radiation a person is exposed to – in the past, present and future – adds up. The New England Journal of Medicine cited a 2007 study that found that as many as two percent of cancers in the United States are caused by radiation exposure from CT-related imaging alone. While this is concerning, CT scans are a very important diagnostic tool, so discuss this with your physician if one is ordered for you.

Q: Do I have a choice where I get a CT scan?

A: Yes. You can take your physician’s orders to any facility where CT scans are performed. And, with Porter now offering low-dose scans at all facilities, you may choose this safer type of scan at one of our convenient locations.

The bottom line is that by doing your homework, weighing the benefits, and choosing Porter, you can now reduce the risks from CT radiation exposure.