Study indicates millions of Americans may be exposed to high doses of radiation from medical imaging.

The New York Times (8/27, A14, Berenson) reports, “At least four million Americans under age 65 are exposed to high doses of radiation each year from medical imaging tests,” according to a study appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers also found that an estimated “400,000 of those patients receive very high doses, more than the maximum annual exposure allowed for nuclear power plant employees or anyone else who works with radioactive material.”

The AP (8/27, Chang) reports that “researchers found about 20 percent were exposed to moderate radiation doses and two percent were exposed to high levels.” The work “did not directly address whether medical imaging is being overused, but some doctors are concerned that advanced tests like CT scans are being over-prescribed, and that evidence of their value in certain situations is lacking.”

The researchers noted that “these tests not only have a cost in terms of the dollars, but also in terms of the radiation,” adding that “those situations when there’s not a clear indication for the tests is the issue here,” Bloomberg News (8/27, Ostrow) reports.

For the study, the researchers examined insurance “records on nearly one million adults aged 18 to 64 in five regions across the United States: Arizona, Texas, Wisconsin, South Florida, and North Florida,” HealthDay (8/26, Gardner) reported. During the study period, “which lasted from the beginning of 2005 to the end of 2007,” all participants “were enrolled in the same insurance plan.” The analysis revealed that “almost 70 percent of the participants had at least one imaging procedure that exposed them to radiation.”

MedPage Today (8/26, Fiore) reported that researchers “found that the mean cumulative effective dose from imaging procedures was 2.4 mSv per patient per year,” which is “almost double what’s expected from natural sources alone, the researchers said.” Still, “there was a wide distribution of doses among their population, as the median effective dose was just 0.1 mSv per person per year.” Among various imaging tests, the study showed that “myocardial perfusion imaging and CT scans accounted for the greatest percentage of total dose exposure.”

Notably, “the highest radiation exposures occurred among women and older adults,” WebMD (8/26, Boyles) reported. But, “imaging-associated exposures among young adults were not insignificant,” as 30 percent “of men and 40 percent of women with high exposure per year in the study were under the age of 50.” The study also showed that “80 percent of radiation exposures occurred among non-hospitalized patients.” The South Florida Sun-Sentinel (8/27, LaMendola) and the Wall Street Journal (8/26, Goldstein) Health Blog also covered the story.

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