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World Radiography Day: Advantages And Disadvantages Of X-rays

Each year on 8 November, World Radiography Day is celebrated to mark the anniversary of the discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895. X-rays are an important imaging tool used to detect bone fractures, some types of injuries, dental problems, certain tumours, foreign objects, etc.

What Are X-rays? [1]

X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation that can pass through most objects, including the body. Medically, it is used to generate images of tissues and bone structures inside the body.

When an X-ray beam passes through the body, the tissues and bones absorb the beam in different amounts depending on their density. This generates a shadow that is picked up on a film placed on the opposite side of the X-ray machine.

Radiography, fluoroscopy, and computed tomography (CT) are the types of X-ray imaging used to detect medical conditions. Though X-ray imaging is widely used to help people treat the disease on time, the test has its own share of risks too. Let's find out.

Advantages Of X-ray Imaging [2]

  • Non-invasive - X-ray imaging can help diagnose a disease or condition and even monitor the progression of treatment. This helps in detecting the condition easily without the need to physically enter and examine a patient's body.
  • Guidance - When doctors perform surgeries, they insert catheters, stents, or other devices inside the patient. These procedures involve the use of X-ray fluoroscopy, which helps guide the doctors to remove blood clots or other similar blockages or tumours.
  • An unexpected finding of a disease or condition - Another benefit of X-ray imaging is that it can show up something unexpected in areas where it can't be detected. For example, infection in the bone, tumour or fluid in areas where it can go unnoticed.

Disadvantages Of X-ray Imaging

X-rays produce ionizing radiation that has the ability to harm tissues inside the body. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United States Government, X-rays can cause DNA mutations and may cause cancer in later life [3] .

According to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, in the U.S. around 0.4% of cancers are caused by CT scans [4] .

Another study showed that in the UK and 13 other developed countries, X-rays elevate the risk of cancer by 0.6 to 1.8% by the age of 75 years. In Japan, the cancer risk is more than 3% [5] .

In another study published in the Environmental Health and Toxicology, exposure to dental X-ray can possibly increase the risk of meningioma and thyroid cancer [6] .

In addition, exposure to high radiation levels has side effects like bleeding, fainting, vomiting, and hair loss. The risk depends on the type of X-ray imaging and the part of the body being imaged.

To Conclude...

When X-rays are used appropriately, the benefits significantly outweigh the risks. That being said, X-rays emit lower doses of radiation which doesn't cause any immediate health problems. Making the right diagnosis and choosing the correct treatment make X-ray imaging far more beneficial, however, it is also important to keep the risks in mind.

View Article References
  1. [1] Holmstrom, L. (1974).U.S. Patent No. 3,784,837. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  2. [2] Rebuffel, V., & Dinten, J. M. (2007). Dual-energy X-ray imaging: benefits and limits.Insight-non-destructive testing and condition monitoring,49(10), 589-594.
  3. [3] Lim, M. K. (2001). Exposure of airline pilots and cabin crew to cosmic radiation during flight--what's the fuss?.Annals of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore,30(5), 494-498.
  4. [4] Brenner, D. J., & Hall, E. J. (2007). Computed tomography—an increasing source of radiation exposure.New England Journal of Medicine,357(22), 2277-2284.
  5. [5] de Gonzalez, A. B., & Darby, S. (2004). Risk of cancer from diagnostic X-rays: estimates for the UK and 14 other countries.The lancet,363(9406), 345-351.
  6. [6] Hwang, S. Y., Choi, E. S., Kim, Y. S., Gim, B. E., Ha, M., & Kim, H. Y. (2018). Health effects from exposure to dental diagnostic X-ray.Environmental health and toxicology,33(4), e2018017.
Story first published: Friday, November 8, 2019, 16:00 [IST]