WASHINGTON (March 4) - Trauma patients treated in U.S. emergency rooms on average are exposed to radiation equivalent to 1,005 chest X-rays each, enough to raise their risk of cancer, researchers reported on Monday.
Doctors should think about the total dose of radiation given patients, especially younger ones, Dr. James Winslow of Wake Forest University in North Carolina and colleagues said.
Writing in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, they said they analyzed the records of 86 patients who came to a level one trauma center over a three-month period in 2006.
More than half had been in car accidents.
These patients got many X-rays and computed tomography or CT scans, which provide a better image but which can deliver high amounts of radiation.
"Multi-trauma patients are at high risk of life-threatening injuries, which clearly justifies aggressive testing to determine the best course of treatment using all the tools available in the emergency department," Winslow said in a statement.
"However, physicians should consider the long-term risks and benefits of exposing their patients to the high levels of radiation emitted by the series of studies informally referred to as the 'pan scan,' or computed tomography of the head, neck, chest, abdomen and pelvis."
X-rays have long been known to raise the risk of cancer. Heavier doses raise the risk more, and younger people have a worse risk as they have many more years ahead of them in which to develop a tumor.
Winslow's team said the average person living in the United States receives about 3 millisieverts of background radiation every year. The trauma patients got on average 40 millisieverts.
"Possible options for reducing radiation exposure may include ordering fewer repeated imaging studies, using lower dose radiological imaging techniques and using alternative imaging methods that do not use radiation, such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging," Winslow said.