Whether you are a young child with cancer or a grandmother who just wants to make sure she’s in good health, medical imaging helps you detect and diagnose disease at its earliest, most treatable stages and guides physicians and patients in determining the most appropriate and effective care. Together, imaging and radiation innovations have turned countless patients into survivors.
For many of us, our own experiences confirm this. We have either benefited personally from medical imaging or know someone whose life was saved or improved by these technologies. The mother whose breast MRI detects cancer in time to avoid radical surgery. The father whose chest CT finds that the blockage is worse than anticipated and immediate action is needed. The aunt, uncle, grandparent or cousin whose Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) saved his or her life.
Beyond personal examples, we also know that the value of medical imaging and radiation therapy is demonstrated empirically.
From receiving a CT scan instead of a cardiac catheterization to detecting a polyp before it is cancerous, peer-reviewed research confirms that medical technologies not only improve health outcomes and save lives, but also reduce health care costs and drive down spending.
For a snapshot into the power of medical imaging and the curative effects of radiation therapy, consider these research findings:
- A study showed that increased use of medical imaging is directly tied to an increase in life expectancy for Americans.
- Breast cancer screening reduces breast cancer mortality. If detected early, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 99 percent.
- A recent study determined that women aged 40–49 years with breast cancer detected with mammography were diagnosed at an earlier stage than possible without mammography, allowing for less invasive surgery, less toxic chemotherapy and with lower rates of recurrence and disease-related mortality.
- A first-of-its-kind actuarial study demonstrated that lung cancer screening would save thousands of lives at a relatively low cost if such tests were routinely covered by commercial insurers. According to the study, the cost per life-year saved would be lower than screening for cervical and breast cancer and comparable to the cost per life-year saved of screening for colorectal cancer. If such screening had been in place for the last 15 years, 130,000 more people under age 65 would be alive today, plus additional people over age 65.
- New research shows that by using a CT scan, doctors can predict which patients are at risk of continued bleeding in the brain after a stroke. This vital information will allow doctors to utilize the most powerful blood clotting medications for those with the highest risk.
- Research shows that screening reduces death rates from colorectal cancer both by preventing the disease and by detecting it at earlier, more treatable stages. The relative five-year survival rate is 90% for colorectal cancer patients diagnosed at an early, localized stage; however, only 39% of cases are diagnosed at this stage.
Safe & Effective
Imaging procedures such as CT and radiation therapy technologies utilize medical radiation to diagnose and treat a wide range of diseases – from cancer and appendicitis to stroke and heart disease – saving millions of lives each year.
As with most medical procedures, there can be risks associated with medical radiation use. However, when technologies are used appropriately, the risks are miniscule. According to the National Institutes of Health, “radiation can be used for great benefit to humanity and with minimal risk, a risk comparable to or lower than those commonly accepted as an ordinary part of daily life, such as driving to work.”
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Additionally, over the past 20 years, manufacturers have introduced new products and system innovations that have reduced radiation dose for many procedures by up to 75 percent, while significantly improving the ability of physicians to diagnose and treat their patients. Today, manufacturers are still innovating new ways to minimize radiation dose and continue to develop and implement additional patient protection features, believing that one medical error is one too many.
If you have questions or concerns about medical radiation, we encourage you to talk with your doctor about your imaging history and the appropriateness of any test or treatment so that exposure to medical radiation can be effectively managed and minimized.