Baptist Health Focuses on Low-Dosage Radiation Solutions

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November 19, 2012


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New technology — and protocols — at Baptist Health hospitals, outpatient diagnostic and urgent care centers are reducing radiation dosages to patients undergoing X-rays, CT and PET scans, mammograms, nuclear medicine and fluoroscopy procedures. The news is particularly good for children and patients who require repetitive studies, people who have a slightly higher risk of cancer due to radiation exposure over a lifetime.

X-rays send radiation through the body to create high-quality images doctors use to diagnose diseases, detect broken bones and even quickly determine whether a patient is having a heart attack. While we all are exposed to radiation every day from natural sources like the sun and the soil, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements reports that the radiation dose per person has increased nearly 500 percent from medical X-rays alone since 1982.

This heightened exposure to radiation has doctors, engineers and scientists searching for ways to make X-rays safer. “The industry is very aware of the need to use the lowest possible amount of radiation and order imaging tests only when the benefits are clear,” said Kenneth Mendelson, M.D., chief of pediatric radiology for Baptist Health. “With children, we must be even more vigilant. A child’s cells are still growing and dividing. In addition, they have many more years for a potential problem to develop.”

New computer software has enhanced the images that come from lower-dose radiation, reducing much of the background “noise” or graininess that sometimes appears with a reduction of dosage. Baptist Health also has special imaging protocols for children. Baptist Children’s Diagnostic Center, housed in Baptist Medical Plaza at Country Walk, is staffed with dedicated radiologists who are Board-certified in both pediatric radiology and radiology.

“We’re very conscious about exposing children to radiation,” Dr. Mendelson said. “We look to see if there’s an alternate test, such as ultrasound or an MRI, which will provide adequate pictures. We take as few images as possible. And when we don’t need the most detailed image to make a proper diagnosis, we lower the dosage even below recommended limits for children.”

Baptist Health uses the same radiation safety principle, ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable), for adults and children at all of its facilities, and averages even lower dosages than recommended by the American College of Radiology (see chart). Doctors take special care with patients who need radiation treatment to kill cancer cells. “We tailor the treatment to the individual and the target,” said Jaafar Bennouna, director of medical physics at South Miami Hospital and Board-certified by the American Board of Radiology. “In addition to eradicating the cancer, we want to spare the healthy tissue.”

While patients should be aware of how much radiation they’ve been exposed to in the past, they should also know that in many instances, the benefits far outweigh the risks. A patient who comes to the emergency center with symptoms of heart attack, for example, may be given a coronary CT angiography (CTA).

“A CTA quickly tells us if a patient has any blockages in the blood vessels in the heart,” said Ricardo Cury, M.D., medical director of cardiac imaging at Baptist Hospital and Baptist Cardiac & Vascular Institute. “Detecting a heart attack as soon as possible speeds the treatment process, often resulting in a better outcome.”

You can play a role in reducing your radiation risks. The Food and Drug Administration suggests that you keep a record of your X-ray history and share it with your doctor, ask if an alternate test is a possibility and use facilities that are accredited by the American College of Radiology and The Joint Commission.

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