U.K. sees spike in CT, rad exposure

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The number of x-ray procedures conducted in the U.K. increased by 10 percent between 1997 and 2008, bringing the average Brit's annual exposure to radiation up from 0.33 mSv in 1997 to 0.4 mSv in 2008, a report published by the U.K. Health Protection Agency found.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) estimated that 46 million medical and dental x-ray procedures were carried out in 2008, with 67 percent of these images taken at National Health Service (NHS) hospitals and 26 percent performed by dentists.

While the volume of x-rays rose by 10 percent between 1997 and 2008, the number of CT scans performed spiked 140 percent over the same period, from 1.4 million to 3.4 million. This jump brought the proportion of radiation exposure produced by CT to 68 percent of the U.K. public's x-ray-dose exposure. Overall, medical x-rays only account for 15 percent of the public's exposure to ionizing radiation, which totals 2.7 mSv per person-year, according to the report.

"Despite the increased use of diagnostic x-rays in medicine in the U.K., the average dose to the population is still considerably lower than in comparable countries. This is because in the U.K. we carry out fewer x-ray examinations per head of population and ... [w]ell framed regulations and guidance exist to maximize the clinical benefit and protect the public and workers," John Cooper, MD, director of the HPA's Center for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards claimed.

Cooper noted that the average American is exposed to five times the radiation dose of his British counterpart.

The HPA also reported that 20,000 of the country's CT scans were performed on asymptomatic individuals as part of self-initiated health assessment. In addition, the NHS Breast Screening Program drew a 45 percent increase inbreast x-ray exams between 1997 and 2008, from 1.4 million to 2.03 million. The HPA said that this increase was mostly the result of the program's extension of coverage to women through the age of 70, whereas previously coverage was terminated at 64 years.