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J Am Coll Cardiol. 2012 Feb 7;59(6):553-65. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2011.08.079.

Effects of radiation exposure from cardiac imaging: how good are the data?

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Department of Medicine, Columbia University Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, 622 West 168th Street, New York, NY 10032.


Concerns about medical exposure to ionizing radiation have become heightened in recent years as a result of rapid growth in procedure volumes and the high radiation doses incurred from some procedures. This paper summarizes the evidence base undergirding concerns about radiation exposure in cardiac imaging. After classifying radiation effects, explaining terminology used to quantify the radiation received by patients, and describing typical doses from cardiac imaging procedures, this paper will address the major epidemiological studies having bearing on radiation effects at doses comparable to those received by patients undergoing cardiac imaging. These include studies of atomic bomb survivors, nuclear industry workers, and children exposed in utero to x-rays, all of which have evidenced increased cancer risks at low doses. Additional higher-dose epidemiological studies of cohorts exposed to radiation in the context of medical treatment are described and found to be generally compatible with these cardiac dose-level studies, albeit with exceptions. Using risk projection models developed by the U.S. National Academies that incorporate these data and reflect several evidence-based assumptions, cancer risk from cardiac imaging can be estimated and compared with the benefits from imaging. Several ongoing epidemiological studies will provide better understanding of radiation-associated cancer risks.

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