“When one admits that nothing is certain one must, I think, also admit that some things are much more nearly certain than others.” Bertrand Russell (1872–1970)
Computed tomography (CT) is one of the largest contributors to man-made radiation doses in medical populations. CT currently accounts for over 60 million examinations in the United States, and its use continues to grow rapidly. The principal concern regarding radiation exposure is that the subject may develop malignancies. For this systematic review we searched journal publications in MEDLINE (1966–2006) using the terms “CT,” “ionizing radiation,” “cancer risks,” “MRI,” and “patient safety.” We also searched major reports issued from governmental U.S. and world health-related agencies. Many studies have shown that organ doses associated with routine diagnostic CT scans are similar to the low-dose range of radiation received by atomic-bomb survivors. The FDA estimates that a CT examination with an effective dose of 10 mSv may be associated with an increased chance of developing fatal cancer for approximately one patient in 2000, whereas the BEIR VII lifetime risk model predicts that with the same low-dose radiation, approximately one individual in 1000 will develop cancer. There are uncertainties in the current radiation risk estimates, especially at the lower dose levels encountered in CT. To address what should be done to ensure patient safety, in this review we discuss the “as low as reasonably achievable” (ALARA) principle, and the use of MRI as an alternative to CT. J. Magn. Reson. Imaging 2007;25:900–909. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.