Radiation From Cardiac Imaging and Procedures May Pose Cancer Risk, From the Harvard Heart Letter

Published: Jul 25, 2012

BOSTON—Procedures for diagnosing and treating heart disease that use ionizing radiation can potentially damage cells and increase the risk of cancer. Although no single test is likely to be harmful, radiation from cardiac tests, dental x-rays, chest x-rays, mammograms, and tests performed for other reasons can add up, quickly reaching or surpassing the recommended lifetime medical radiation limit of 100 milliSieverts (mSv) set by the American College of Radiology, reports the July 2012 Harvard Heart Letter.

There's growing concern about CT scans because the popularity of these tests has exploded, exposing large numbers of people to sometimes substantial doses of radiation.

Tests that emit ionizing radiation include:

Chest x-ray: 0.04 mSv

Mammogram: 0.07 mSv

Calcium scoring test: 1-2 mSv

Cardiac catheterization: 7 mSv

Chest CT: 10 mSv

Coronary CT angiogram: 3-14 mSv

Radionuclide sestamibi stress test: 10-12 mSv

Radionuclide dual isotope myocardial perfusion imaging: 25 mSv

"One or two CT scans over a lifetime is appropriate. But if you have a condition that requires repeated monitoring, a test that does not expose you to ionizing radiation may be preferred," says Dr. Warren Manning, chief of noninvasive cardiac imaging and testing at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a professor at Harvard Medical School.

Cardiac tests that pose no radiation risk include ECG, echocardiography, ultrasound, and MRI.

Radiologists in Harvard-affiliated hospitals, as well as those in many other leading medical centers, take precautions to minimize radiation exposure. This includes using protocols that allow cardiac CT scans to be performed with one-sixth the conventional radiation dose.

Read the full-length article: "Caution: Keep tabs on your radiation exposure"

Also in the July 2012 issue of the Heart Letter:

Biomarkers help individualize treatment of heart attack and heart failure

Two steps that can keep you from going back into the hospital after a heart attack

Breakthrough in no-surgery procedure for replacing failing atrial valves

Chantix smoking-cessation drug deemed safe for the heart

The Harvard Heart Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $20 per year. Subscribe at www.health.harvard.edu/heart or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free). XXX Contact Natalie Ramm at hhpmedia@hms.harvard.edu for a complimentary copy of the newsletter, or to receive our press releases directly.

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