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As with all medical procedures, clinical radiology does involve a level of risk. However the benefit of improved diagnosis and early treatment are considered by medical experts to significantly outweigh any risks.
Being exposed to the radiation used in X-rays, whether in the form of plain radiography, CT scanning or fluoroscopy, carries with it a very small increase in the risk of developing cancer later in life. Sensitivity to the radiation depends on your age, with children being more sensitive than adults.
Specific imaging tests carry different risks.
CT (computed tomography) scans involve taking a series of X-rays from different angles which are computer processed to show cross-sections of the body. They use radiation and have a low level of risk. CT scans were previously known as CAT scans.
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans use an external magnetic field to generate radio waves which are used to create images. The magnetic field only poses a safety risk if you have metal in your body such as pacemakers or hip joints that contain ferromagnetic materials. Unlike radiography and nuclear medicine, MRI does not use ionising radiation.
Nuclear medicine involves injecting, inhaling or swallowing a very small amount of radioactive medication called a radiopharmaceutical. A special camera is used to detect the radiation from the medication. There is a small degree of risk associated with the radiation and there can be a degree of risk from an allergic reaction, however this this is extremely rare. Talk to your referring doctor or radiologist if you have any concerns.
Ultrasound (sonography) uses high frequency sound waves to produce images. There are no known risks associated with ultrasound.
X-rays have been used for many years and are considered to be safe. Having an X-ray does exposes you to a small amount of radiation, the level depends on which part of your body is being examined, for example X-rays of your teeth will use less radiation than an X-ray of your spine.
Page last modified on 13/10/2016.
RANZCR® is not aware that any person intends to act or rely upon the opinions, advices or information contained in this publication or of the manner in which it might be possible to do so. It issues no invitation to any person to act or rely upon such opinions, advices or information or any of them and it accepts no responsibility for any of them.
RANZCR® intends by this statement to exclude liability for any such opinions, advices or information. The content of this publication is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. It is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient and his/her doctor. Some of the tests and procedures included in this publication may not be available at all radiology providers.
RANZCR® recommends that any specific questions regarding any procedure be discussed with a person's family doctor or medical specialist. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this publication, RANZCR®, its Board, officers and employees assume no responsibility for its content, use, or interpretation. Each person should rely on their own inquires before making decisions that touch their own interests.