Risks in Radiological Procedures

They’re more the norm than the anomaly these days, what with doctors prescribing them as both a preventive measure and using them as a diagnostic tool. They’re routine during annual checkups and often conducted when your healthcare practitioner wants to rule out or confirm the existence of a condition or syndrome. And although radiological procedures do offer a host of benefits when it comes to preventing and treating disease, there are various risks in using them too frequently too. For one, technicians and radiologists are prone to errors that have undesirable consequences, and for another, the risks of cancer caused by the radiation generated by these procedures are on the rise.

According to a study conducted by United States Pharmacopeia, the NGO that sets standards for prescription, OTC and other healthcare products manufactured or sold in the USA, mistakes in radiology are more likely to harm patients than any other kind of hospital or healthcare setting errors. The statistics for radiology errors were 7 times higher than all medication errors studied over the same period of time. Radiologic errors are defined as those that occur in or as a result of imaging in the radiology department and the cardiac catheterization laboratory, and in the field of nuclear medicine. The risks arise because most people view radiological procedures as routine little realizing that the medications used before, during and after these procedures pose high risks.

What’s worse than the errors caused by radiologists and others who perform interventional radiology (like the procedures performed in cardiac catheterization labs) are the risks that increase if you undergo radiology procedures often. There rise of the incidence of cancer can probably be linked to the rise of the use of CT scans in the medical diagnostic field. Studies conducted in both the USA and the UK show that the usage of CT scans has increased 20 times in the USA and 12 times in the UK over the last 20 years. CT scans are detrimental to human health because they use high doses of radiation to generate images. Other high-dose procedures include interventional radiology and barium enemas.

While one CT scan is not going to cause cancer, problems arise when they are prescribed when unnecessary, when they’re used as screening procedures in asymptomatic patients, and/or when a low-risk alternative will suffice. Also, when CT scans are performed repeatedly, the risk of cancer rises alarmingly. The long term effects are yet to be determined conclusively, but we know enough to understand that radiology procedures must be used only when absolutely necessary.