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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Medical Ethics in Radiology

Medical Ethics in the Field of Radiology
By Rachel Davis

Every profession has its own set of rules and regulations; some of them are explicit and breaking them brings the long arm of the law after you; and some others are implicit and adherence to them depends on the ethical sense of people in the profession. Ethical implications are more significant in some professions – like in the field of medicine where lives are at stake or in the field of finance and accountancy where livelihoods are at stake. Some ethical lines are clearly drawn and hence crossed rarely; others however are blurred and the distinction between right and wrong is not quite clear.

The field of radiology is an example of a profession where there are many blurred lines - some lines are clear enough, like those that dictate that patients must not be subjected to diagnostic tests that are unnecessary and which have already been performed on them; others however, are not clearly defined because the data is fuzzy and not conclusive.

We’ve known for long that radiation causes cancer and that radiological procedures increase the risk of cancer for radiologists and patients and that radiology causes 1 percent of all cancers in the U.S. Studies have shown that the higher the number of certain radiological procedures (like CT scans), the higher the risk of cancer. 1.5 to 2 percent of all cancers in the U.S. are caused by CT radiation exposure. So radiologists are ethically bound to inform their patients of the associated risks and also weigh the benefits of the procedure against the increased cancer risk.

The risk of cancer does not decrease as you grow older, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. In fact, the cumulative risk of cancer increases above the age of 40. The procedures that involve the highest risks are CT scans of the neck, lung and pelvis, barium enemas, and X-rays of the pelvis and hip. The cancers that are most associated with radiography are leukemia and those that affect the colon, bladder and breast.

The risks to radiologists are much higher than that of patients; they are exposed to tiny doses of radiation as part of their work on a daily basis. While the amounts may be negligible when taken alone, their cumulative effect could have devastating consequences. However, the data available refers to radiologists studied before 1950, when radiation levels were higher and protection measures not as effective. Recent studies based on current levels of radiation exposure are not as conclusive; however, radiologists must keep tabs on their health because of the nature of their profession.

Radiologists are duty bound to perform diagnostic procedures on patients; they cannot refuse to do so simply because their cancer risk increases because they are ethically bound by the oath they take as doctors.


This guest post is contributed by Rachel Davis, she writes on the topic of Radiology Degrees. She welcomes your comments at her email id: racheldavis65[@]gmail[.]com.

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