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Originally published October 13 2010

Americans receive more medical radiation than anyone else in the world

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) People in the United States receive more medical radiation than residents of any other country, a fact that is leading increasing numbers of health professionals to call for changes in the way that many medical tests are performed.

One such doctor is radiologist Steven Birnbaum, who became concerned about the risks of over-radiation when his daughter received more medical scans after a car accident than he thought necessary. Wondering how widespread the problem was, he directed his staff to call his attention to any patient under 40 who had five or more computed tomography (CT) scans, and any patient over 40 who had 10 or more. To his shock, his staff turned up 50 people in the next three years, including one young woman who received 31 abdominal scans.

The use of radiation imaging in the United States has skyrocketed in the past few decades. A recent Columbia University study estimated that 20 million adults and 1 million children are being exposed to unnecessary cancer risk from medical scans. A Duke University study found that the typical U.S. heart attack patient receives the equivalent of 850 chest X-rays in just the first few days after surgery, and that many of these test are unnecessary.

Another study found that more than four million people are being exposed to more than 20 millisieverts of medical radiation per year, and that 2 percent of study participants received between 20 and 50. In contrast, natural "background" radiation from the sun and soil is only 2 millisieverts a year.

Patients concerned about their radiation exposure should always ask doctors if a radiation scan is necessary, whether radiation-free alternatives are available, if the scan has ever been performed on them before, how the dose will be adjusted for their sex and age, and if the doctor has a financial stake in the machines to be used. Radiologist Fred Mettler of the New Mexico Veterans Administration suggests asking for a copy of all tests performed.

"You should have all of your stuff digitally on something," he said. "I keep mine on my laptop."

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