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Re-Evaluating The X-Ray

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In the past, some have voiced concern that X-rays may cause cancer.

Now, the federal government will evaluate the health risk of the radioactive emitting machines, prompted by a request from the National Institute of Environment Health Sciences (NIEHS).

Dr. Christopher Portier, Director of the Environmental Toxicology Program at NIEHS, visited The Early Show to discuss what it might mean to have medical X-ray machines added to the carcinogen list. He says the listing is being considered for the National Toxicology Program's 11th Report on Carcinogens due in 2004.

Studies have documented that there are cancer risks due to large portions of radiation exposure, but risks from low-emitting medical sources are controversial and often downplayed by physicians.

According to the National Cancer Institute and other major organizations, the risks could cause harm because, they say, "no amount of radiation should be considered absolutely safe."

Dr. Portier says his agency is concerned that use of Computed Tomography (CT) scans, fluoroscopy, mammography in younger women and medical X-rays are exposing the public to increasingly higher levels of radiation.

NIEHS says the medical community should adhere three X-ray precautions. They are:

  • Doctors should limit the area of X-ray exposure to the body
  • Doctors should calibrate the degree of exposure by considering body type
  • Doctors should consider alternatives to diagnoses
The American College of Radiology points to the success rate of X-rays. They say the risk of exposure is balanced against the medical benefit.

The carcinogen risk of X-ray machines will be evaluated over the next year.