Answer to Question #10574 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Medical and Dental Patient Issues — Diagnostic X Ray and CT

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:

Q
I am 19 years old and had a CT scan of the lumbar section (because the doctor suspected I have a herniated disc), then two months later I had an x ray of my pelvis and both hips. Earlier this year I had a chest x ray, and the year before I had two x rays of my abdomen. 

Now I'm very worried since I read a lot about radiation exposure and increased risk of cancer. In one article I saw that I have one in 600 chance of developing cancer in 10 years. I'm very depressed. I can't sleep, all I can think about is that huge risk. I want to have children and live my life, but now I'm so scared that I can't think of anything else. Please, tell me, have I been exposed to way too much radiation?

I checked my CT scan dose report and it says 262.81 DLP, but I don't understand how much mSv is this. Is it a lot?
A
I recommend that you look as the x-ray risk calculator at xrayrisk.com. You can enter your x-ray examinations, age, and gender and it will provide an estimate of your radiation exposure and cancer risk. The calculator also allows you to enter DLP (if known) and it converts it to dose (again, this is an estimate). I did this for you with the following results:
Examination Dose (mSv)
Abdominal CT (for the lumbar CT)
4.7
Pelvis 0.6
Hips (2×)
1.4
Chest (2 view)
0.1
Abdomen (2×) 1.4
Total 8.2
The risk calculator gives a 1 in 625 chance of developing cancer from these studies. Looking at this risk another way, there is a 99.8 percent chance of having no effects from these studies. The risk estimate calculator is a theoretical risk determined by using data from individuals receiving much higher doses than these and extrapolating it to lower doses.

You might also want to look at the Health Physics Society’s position statement on radiation risk which states, “below 50–100 mSv, risks of health effects are either too small to be observed or are nonexistent.” Your dose is well below this.  

Finally, it is important to recognize that these medical exposures were not without benefit to you. These procedures provided you and your physician(s) with information which could be used in the diagnosis and treatment of your medical condition.

Kent Lambert, CHP
Answer posted on 6 March 2013. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.