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Are Americans Overexposed to Radiation From Imaging Tests?

Americans are exposed to seven times more radiation from diagnostic scans than they were in 1980. Experts are saying that doctors are overusing the tests for profit and raising health risks for patients.

The findings add to already mounting evidence that doctors are ordering too many diagnostic tests, driving up the cost of health care in the United States and potentially harming patients.

Diagnostic scans can give doctors valuable information, but some doctors fear too much radiation exposure may cause cancer, especially in younger people.

However, imaging technology has created a financial incentive for some doctors to cash in -- by referring patients to get imaging tests on equipment in their own practices.

Radiation was introduced into medicine almost immediately after discovery of the x-ray by Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895. Since then use of imaging technologies like CT, MRI and nuclear medicine scans have exploded.

Spending on medical imaging doubled between 2000 and 2006 to reach about $14 billion a year, and that is just for Medicare spending alone, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office.

And a 10-year study by University of California, San Francisco researchers found the use of CT scans doubled between 1997 and 2006.

While high-tech imaging can be beneficial in certain cases, they must be used with caution because they expose your body to dangerous radiation -- radiation that is proven to cause cancer. So when a doctor has a financial interest in promoting diagnostic scans performed in his or her own office, it sets the stage for vast overuse.

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