Exposure to ionizing radiation is the best- and longest-established environmental cause of breast cancer in both women and men. Ionizing radiation can increase the risk for breast cancer through a number of different mechanisms. Among the many sources of ionizing radiation are traditional X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, fluoroscopy and other medical radiological procedures. The effects of radiation are cumulative across a lifetime, and are of greatest impact when exposures are to young children and adolescents.
Although there has been a significant decrease over the past several decades in exposures to ionizing radiation from individual X-rays, the introduction of CT scans in the 1970s greatly increased the radiation dose per medical examination. And although X-rays and CT scans can give critical information for diagnosing medical problems, recent studies indicate an overuse of CT scans, and therefore a high exposure to radiation, especially for patients regularly using emergency room services.
Whether for screening or diagnostic procedures, be an informed and involved patient. When X-rays or CT scans are recommended, discuss with your medical care team whether or not the tests are necessary and whether there may be alternative tests that will give the same information but without the use of radiation. (Neither MRI nor ultrasound tests utilize ionizing radiation.) Be especially engaged in these conversations with your young childrens physicians.
And if you seek a second opinion for which a repeat test is suggested, use as part of your criteria for choosing the person to give the second opinion, the option of providing the data from the original test -- to be read and interpreted by the second medical care provider you consult.