X-Rays: Is it Worth the Risk?

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X-rays are forms of radiant energy, much like light or radio waves, but they are different in the fact that they can penetrate the body, allowing a radiologist to produce pictures of internal structures and therefore assisting the clinician in making a reasonable diagnosis.


The scientific unit of measurement for radiation dose is known as the “effective dose”; a term applied because different tissues and organs have varying sensitivity to radiation exposure, and so the radiation risk posed by an x-ray procedure will vary depending on which part of the body it targets. The effective dose allows for a quantification of the risk of the x-ray, and offers a comparison to other familiar sources of exposure. The usual CT chest x-ray, for example, will produce the radiation equivalent of two years natural radiation. A comparison like this makes it easier to determine the risk.


A low dose CT is done for specific purposes, such as screening for early lung cancer in patients who have high risk factors. In this instance, the images obtained are sufficient to notice abnormalities within the lungs, which can then be investigated.

Lung cancer appears to be the third most common cancer in Malaysia, and most cases are only caught in the latter stages when one of the few treatments available is palliative. A low dose CT can provide a reasonably safe way of detecting early lung cancer in high risk patients and ensure there is an opportunity for surgical resection and thus, hopefully, a surgical cure.


The risk of a low dose CT is much lower than the risk of getting lung cancer, especially in the high risk section of the population. Therefore, it is reasonable for high risk groups to undergo a low dose CT, allowing more cases to be detected earlier and therefore giving doctors a chance to surgically cure the disease before it develops further.


This article was written by Dr. Sivakumaran Karupayah for The Expat magazine.
Source: The Expat November 2012

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