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August 14, 2012 > Radiation Safety: What You Need to Know

Radiation Safety: What You Need to Know

Upcoming Seminar Will Discuss the Safeguards That Protect Patients

Today, doctors have more tools than ever at their disposal to diagnose and treat patients. Perhaps one of the most useful - and therefore widely used - is medical imaging, including X-rays, as well as more recent advancements, such as computed tomography scanning.

Medical radiation has increased over the last century as the number and type of examinations have increased. This is especially true in the last 25 years with the advent of computed tomography scanning, also known as CT or CAT scanning. CT image quality is excellent with great visualization of anatomy and pathologic processes.

The effectiveness of CT scans - to diagnose certain types of disease processes such as cancer, infection and trauma, as well as being a less invasive way to evaluate arteries of the body, among its many uses - has led to a dramatic rise in this type of medical imaging.

The number of CT examinations went from 3 million in 1980 to 62 million currently. CT scans accounts for 15 percent of imaging procedures but 75 percent of medical radiation dose. This has resulted in an increase in the average personal radiation exposure in the United States.

To help the public under understand the benefits of these tests, as well as the inherent risk associated with the radiation exposure they involve, Washington Hospital is hosting a free Health and Wellness seminar titled: "Radiation Safety: What You Need to Know." The lecture will take place on Tuesday, August 21 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Conrad E. Anderson M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

Dr. Bruce Nixon, a Washington Hospital staff radiologist and the Hospital's radiation safety officer will talk about radiation exposure and the current precautions that Washington Hospital has put in place to ensure patient safety.

"There are several measures we take to ensure patient safety during the course of diagnostic testing," he says. "The equipment that we use is calibrated and monitored every year. We also carefully minimize the radiation dose levels as much as we can and we also use lead shields to help protect patients."

To further ensure patient safety, Dr. Nixon says that a radiation safety committee at Washington Hospital also monitors the amount of radiation exposure from x-rays, CT scans and other imaging studies. This emphasis on safety also includes an effort to prevent accidental exposure and minimizing the amount of radiation used in every exam.

"One of the most important measures we follow is using accurate procedures for checking patient information when they arrive with their prescription from their physician," says Dr. Nixon. "We double check that the test that was ordered is appropriate so that a person doesn't receive an unnecessary exam."

Knowledge is Key

During the seminar, Dr. Nixon will talk about some of the major concerns the public may have about radiation exposure including cancer risks.

"Increased risk of cancer development is generally regarded as small when compared to the natural incidence of cancer and other everyday risks-such as flying in an airplane and driving a car, he says. "Additionally, when compared to other lifestyle factors, including smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, and sun exposure; environmental and occupational factors such as asbestos and pesticides; and infectious agents such as viruses and bacteria, the risk associated with routine medical radiation exposure is insignificant."

A better awareness of radiation and its uses in the health care setting is essential to making sure that patients and their physicians are partnering to make the best use of a tool that should be used with discretion.

"After my presentation, I really want to encourage people to ask questions that I can provide some insight on, says Dr. Nixon. "Since I'm the radiation safety officer at Washington Hospital, I really want the public to understand the basics of diagnostic radiation and reassure everyone that the hospital is using every measure possible to minimize the risks of over exposure."

Safeguarding Our Patients

To learn more about radiation safety, tune into InHealth, a Washington Hospital Channel on Comcast 78. A new program titled: "Voices InHealth: Radiation Safety" takes an inside look at the systems and protocols in place at Washington Hospital to ensure patient safety and eliminate avoidable radiation exposure. The program is also available to view 24 hours a day, seven days a week on the InHealth website, To register for this class online, visit or call (800) 963-7070 to register.

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