Ionizing Radiation from Diagnostic X-rays

A few posts ago I discussed the difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.  I described how ionizing radiation contains enough energy contained in the photons to dislodge an electron from an atom or a molecule.  This creates a free radical such as superoxide anion (O2-) or hyroxide anion (OH-) which has the ability easily combine with other atoms or molecules and create a cascade effect which could lead to protein damage and even damage DNA (guanine seems particularly susceptible).  

What are the sources of ionizing radiation?  There are numerous sources in our environment: radon gas, cosmic radiation, ultraviolet (C), gamma radiation, X-rays, etc.  The chart below shows the relative contributions of ionizing radiation exposure:


While radon gas makes up the majority of our inhaled exposure of ionizing radiation, it should be noted that X-rays and nuclear medicine (PET/CT scans) make up nearly a 1/4 of our exposure to ionizing radiation.  While the use of these diagnostic tools such as X-Rays and PET scans have provided us with significant advances in our ability to detect pathology, the dramatic rise in the use of these tools must be considered in a risk-benefit equation.  

A recent study examining the rise of diagnostic equipment using ionizing radiation (Linet, M. S., Slovis, T. L., Miller, D. L., Kleinerman, R., Lee, C., Rajaraman, P., et al. (2012). Cancer risks associated with external radiation from diagnostic imaging procedures. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 62(2), 75-100) contains this quote, “The 600% increase in medical radiation exposure to the US population since 1980 has provided immense benefit, but increased potential future cancer risks to patients”.  

Most people who know me, know my rants about SOME dentists and chiropractors over-prescribing, needless X-rays.  The study performed by Yale Medical school which was publicly released to the media yesterday provides further reason why you should turn down needless X-rays of the teeth.  See:

Three times increase of meningioma for yearly x-rays and 5 times increase for kids under 10!  If you have read some of my posts on the EMR spectrum, you will love this ridiculous quote from a dentist, “X-rays are really energy in the form of waves, exactly like visible light. Actually the only difference between x-rays and light is that x-rays have enough energy to go through the body and light cannot. Therefore, x-rays can take pictures of the inside of the body and light can take pictures of the outside of the body”.  

No wonder my former dentist and I have parted ways (professionally speaking),  







  1. Great post Brett, and thanks for reminding me and my family to question the need for countless x-rays!

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