Maintaining a Safe Environment
From the Imaging Services
Patients often ask about the
radiation exposure of various imaging studies and how much exposure is safe.
Safety for patients and caregivers alike are top-of-mind concerns for doctors
and technologists in the field of imaging and radiation services. Stringent
departmental quality assurance requirements, along with regular inspections and
outside audits, help to ensure the safest possible environment.
Can you put the issue of radiation
exposure into perspective for us?
Everyday we are exposed to
background radiation from our environment, from sources such as sunlight and
radon. And while it’s true that radiation from x-rays, in general, can be
dangerous, this is typically only in doses well above those used in imaging
studies. One way to think about this is that a chest x-ray is equivalent to 10
days of background exposure, according to the RSNA (Radiation Society of
America) web site.
What types of measures are in place
to ensure radiation dosage safety?
We have many checks and balances in
place. At Cayuga Medical Center, we employ a physicist group to work closely
with our radiologists. These physicists routinely monitor our equipment and
mammography units throughout the year to assure proper functioning. Whenever we
install new imaging equipment, they perform acceptance testing after the
equipment is set up, before routine patient use.
At all three of the Imaging
Department sites (Cayuga Medical Center and Convenient Care Centers at Ithaca
and Cortland), our radiologists and radiologic technologists are trained in
physics. We operate using the ALARA (as-low-as-reasonably-achievable)
principle: using as low a dose as possible, but remembering that too low a dose
compromises the quality of the image, resulting in non-diagnostic imaging and
useless exposure to radiation. In addition, the Radiation Safety Committee
meets four times a year, to review safety measures, adherence to policies, and
licensure to ensure quality assurance.
What about exposure from repeated
Sometimes patients need repeated
studies to evaluate the efficacy of treatment or the progress of disease, and
they fear excessive exposure. Women undergoing annual mammograms often ask
about this. Questions about repeated exposure are difficult to answer
definitively, and some advanced imaging modalities do expose the patient to a
higher dose of radiation. In these cases, the patient and his or her doctor
need to weigh the risks of doing the study against the risks of not doing the
study and having a disease go undiagnosed while it is possibly in its early,
most treatable stage.
What about children and babies?
Parents concerned about children
and x-rays should know that the technicians at Cayuga Medical Center do limited
studies on kids to reduce exposure, typically taking fewer views, as compared
to adult patients. More views can be obtained only as needed.
What if I am pregnant and I need an
Our position on pregnant patients
is that we would generally prefer not to perform imaging studies of the abdomen
or pelvis that utilize x-ray: we first recommend clinical diagnosis based on
physical examination and Lab testing and, if imaging is still required, our
preference is to start with ultrasound. However, when it is a potentially
life-threatening situation, we are always available for consultation to help
choose the proper imaging test and suggest ways to reduce exposure to the