Radiology Tests: Concerns about Radiation

The word "radiation," often accompanied by that familiar logo, evokes alarm. You can't see, smell, or feel radiation, yet it can cause harm—an increase risk for cancer, for example. In most cases, radiation risks are low, but in others, the risks are high enough to advise caution. How safe is an upper GI series, an x-ray of the lower back, or a chest x-ray?

Properly functioning radiology equipment and technology confine radiation to the patient and the person(s) present when the exposure occurs. People walking through the halls of the radiology department or sitting in the x-ray waiting room are not exposed to radiation when the equipment is being used. Technologists and radiologists take steps to limit their exposure as much as possible and wear protective shields and devices.

The risks versus benefits of x-ray exams and other tests should always be considered. If the clinical situation warrants a radiological procedure, proceed with caution. If not, look for alternatives. The degree of risk depends on many factors including the patient's gender and age, as well as the type of examination. Young children are more vulnerable to the effects of radiation, older adults are less vulnerable.

Technological improvements in equipment have allowed radiologists to decrease the radiation dose for common examinations. Caution is still very much in order, but fear is unjustified by the facts.

Before undergoing any test, talk to your radiologist if you are or may be pregnant.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 01 May 2000

Last Modified: 23 Mar 2015