Monday Medical: Medical X-rays and radiation |

Monday Medical: Medical X-rays and radiation

— Mammography, X-ray radiography, CT and fluoroscopy all are examples of medical X-rays used to help detect disease or injury so that a medical problem can be treated, managed or even cured.

Recently, concerns have been raised that exposure to radiation can harm living tissue. The risk of developing cancer from radiation exposure is generally very small, and it is dependent upon three factors.

The first factor is the amount of radiation dose. One's lifetime risk of cancer increases with the more X-rays a patient undergoes and the amount of dosage received.

Here at Yampa Valley Medical Center our diagnostic imaging care team uses a technique called ALARA, which means a radiation dosage "as low as reasonably achievable."

When a physician orders a computed tomography scan, a radiologist at YVMC reviews the order.

The radiographer sets the imaging equipment based on the patient's body weight so that the correct dosage of radiation will be used.

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A physicist calibrates YVMC's radiology equipment annually to ensure it's within the manufacturer's specifications and national standards.

The second factor in measuring radiation risk is age. The lifetime risk of developing cancer is greater for a patient who has received X-rays at a younger age than for someone who receives them at an advanced age.

Another risk factor for potentially developing cancer from medical X-ray procedures is gender. Typically, women are at a somewhat higher lifetime risk than men for developing radiation-associated cancer after receiving the same exposures at the same ages.

Keep in mind that we are exposed to radiation from natural sources all the time. The average person in the U.S. receives radiation every year from materials including soil, rocks, building materials, air, water and cosmic radiation. This is called naturally occurring, "background radiation."

Altitude plays a big role in the amount of background radiation to which a person can be exposed.

For instance, people living on the plateaus of Colorado or New Mexico receive a little more background radiation than people living near sea level.

We even receive an additional amount of background radiation from commercial airplane travel.

To explain it in simple terms, the radiation used in X-rays and CT scans has been compared to background radiation we are exposed to daily.

In other words, radiation exposure from one chest X-ray is roughly equivalent to the amount of radiation exposure we experience in our natural surroundings in a day.

A CT scan, depending upon the body area being examined, can be equivalent to eight months, 20 months or even several years of background radiation.

You can reduce your radiation risk by keeping a medical X-ray history with the names of the radiological exams or procedures that you have had, along with the date of the exam and the location.

YVMC's Diagnostic Imaging Department has cards that patients can use to keep track of this information, or patients can print their own from the website,

There also are websites, such as, where you can log in and track the amount of radiation exposure you have received with various procedures.

Another way you can reduce your personal risk is to update your health care provider with your medical X-ray history, especially if you change providers or receive care from multiple facilities.

Ask your health care provider about the medical benefit of any exam that is ordered, and ask whether an alternative diagnostic study, such as an ultrasound or MRI, could be used in place of an X-ray or CT scan.

Finally, be sure to inform your health care provider and radiologic technologist in advance if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.

Lisa A. Bankard is director of wellness and community education at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

If you go

This month’s session of Yampa Valley Medical Center’s monthly, free family health program, Taking Care of Me, is titled “Medical X-rays and Radiation: What Should I Know? What Should I Ask?” The presenter is YVMC physicist Steve Jones. The program is at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the hospital’s Conference Room 1.