A recent report from the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement stated that Americans are now exposed to seven times more radiation each year from medical imaging exams than in 1980. 

In response to the document, the American College of Radiology,  Society for Pediatric Radiology, Society of Breast Imaging, and the Society of Computed Body Tomography and Magnetic Resonance  urged Americans, including medical providers and elected officials, "to understand why this increase occurred, consider the report’s information in its proper context, and support appropriate actions to help lower the radiation dose experienced each year from these exams."

“It is essential that this report not be interpreted solely as an increase in risk to the U.S. population without also carefully considering the tremendous and undeniable benefits of medical imaging," said James H. Thrall, MD, FACR, chair of the ACR Board of Chancellors. "Patients must make these risk/benefit decisions regarding their imaging care based on all the facts available and in consultation with their doctors."

While these noninvasive, accurate imaging tools improved health care, along with increasing radiation exposure, exam overutilization is a major concern.

At a recent international conference, the executive director of the NCRP, cited self-referral as a primary driver of the significant increase in radiation exposure. "Nonradiologist providers often lack even basic radiation safety training and may not be aware of potential repercussions to patients of ordering and often administering high volumes of scans," the ACR said in a recent statement.

The ACR pointed to Government Accountability Office  reports as well as peer-reviewed studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which show that imaging utilization is significantly increased when physicians refer patients to facilities in which they have a financial interest. "From 1998-2005, in the Medicare system, the number of self-referred, in-office CT, MRI, and nuclear medicine scans performed grew at triple the rate of the same exams performed in all settings," the ACR reported. "Private insurance studies indicate that as much as half of this self-referred imaging is unnecessary; in many instances needlessly exposing patients to radiation. Provider fear of litigation, advancing technology, and patient demand may have also contributed to this increase in exposure."

Working with other radiology organizations, the ACR said it will continue in its effort to stem the unnecessary growth in radiation dose that Americans receive from imaging. To access the society’s resources, including the ACR Appropriate Criteria and ACR White Paper on Radiation Dose in Medicine, visit its Web site at www.acr.org.