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Sentinel Event Alert, Issue 47: Radiation risks of diagnostic imaging

September 1, 2011

Sentinel Event Alert Issue 47Diagnostic radiation is an effective tool that can save lives. The higher the dose of radiation delivered at any one time, however, the greater the risk for long-term damage. If a patient receives repeated doses, harm can also occur as the cumulative effect of those multiple doses over time. Conversely, using insufficient radiation may increase the risk of misdiagnosis, delayed treatment, or, if the initial test is inadequate, repeat testing with the attendant exposure to even more radiation.  The risks associated with the use of ionizing radiation in diagnostic imaging include cancer, burns and other injuries.  X-rays are officially classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.