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New Study Suggest Doctors Overexposing Patients to Radiation

The New York Times discussed a pair of studies that were recently released by the journal “Radiology.” The research suggests that physicians should take a new approach to limiting the exposure of patients to potentially dangerous doses of radiation during screenings for breast exams.

It is common knowledge that radiation can be harmful in large doses. Of course patients are exposed to lower levels of it during routine testing-x-rays and ultrasounds being some of the most common. However, problems arise when more complex testing is used that involves increased exposure to radiation. In particular, a few nuclear-based breast imaging tests used to screen for breast cancer involve injection of large amounts of radioactive material in patient bodies. These tests-known as breast-specific gamma imaging and positron emission mammography-are supposed to compliment regular tests but are often used liberally. They offer much more radiation exposure than regular mammograms. Specifically, experts believe that just one of these exams exposes a patient to the same radiation as the total they would get from a lifetime of yearly mammograms.

The radiation exposure ultimately increases some patients’ risk of getting other cancers, like those in the kidney and bladder. The risk for some patients of getting these cancers may be 30 to 40 times greater with the high exposure tests compared to the regular tests. Considering the side effects, the Radiology study indicated that it would be wise for physicians to more fully consider whether the test is actually necessary before ordering it.

Unfortunately changes are slow-going. Asa Mayo Clinic researcher noted, “This is something that isn’t well understood, not just by the public but by physicians who order the tests.” Physicist R. Edward Hendrick explained that this is caused by a misconception among doctors that all of these tests have similar radiation exposures, even though that is unequivocally wrong.

While exposing patients to the risks of excessive radiation is sometimes unavoidable, doctors need to do a better job of fully understanding the risk of the test before administering it. Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers at Levin & Perconti have watched as doctors have refused to consider the risks of certain medical decisions that ultimately injure and kill innocent patients. We encourage all patients to pay close attention to each facet of their medical care to ensure that it is meeting the standards to which they are entitled.