05 March 2008

ER patients exposed to radiation

Trauma patients treated in 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.

Trauma patients treated in US 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.

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.

According to a report in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, they analysed the records of 86 patients who came to a level one trauma centre 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.

Patients being x-rayed unnecessarily
"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.

"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 tumour.

Winslow's team said the average person living in the United States receives about three 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. – (ReutersHealth)

March 2008

Read more:
New super scanner makes waves


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Cancer expert

CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa. Its mission is to be the preferred non-profit organisation that enables research, educates the public and provides support to all people affected by cancer. Questions are answered by CANSA’s Head of Health Professor Michael Herbst and Head of Advocacy Magdalene Seguin. For more information, visit

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules