Does Nuclear Scan Increase Cancer Risk?

Nuclear medicine procedures are not known to cause cancer in healthy individuals. If your doctor recommends a CT scan or a nuclear medicine scan, it is important to ask if there are other techniques that could be used instead, such as a lower-dose x-ray or a test that does not use radiation, such as an ultrasound (which uses high-frequency sound waves) or an MRI (which depends on magnetic energy). Neither ultrasound nor magnetic resonance imaging has been found to damage DNA or increase the risk of cancer. If you have regular CT scans for a chronic condition, it is important to ask your doctor if it is possible to increase the time between scans. If you are unsure of the benefits of CT scans, consider whether you could take a different approach, such as lower-dose imaging or non-imaging observation.

Nuclear medicine works by giving you a radiotracer through a pill, an injection, or a gas. Radiotracers emit gamma rays that can be detected by special cameras that do not emit any radiation. Our nuclear medicine experts analyze the images and send a report to the doctor who ordered the test. Yes, you will be radioactive after a nuclear medicine scan. However, we use such small amounts of radiotracers that you will not be radioactive for more than a day.

Most of the increased exposure in the United States is due to computed tomography and nuclear imaging, which require larger doses of radiation than traditional x-rays. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) accepts the LNT hypothesis as a conservative model for estimating radiation risk. The radiation you receive from x-rays, CT scans, and nuclear images are high-energy particles or wavelengths of ionizing radiation that penetrate tissue to reveal internal organs and structures in the body. Nuclear medicine uses very small amounts of radioactive material, known as radiopharmaceuticals or radiotracers. These forms of radiation can be released in accidents at nuclear power plants and when atomic weapons are manufactured, tested or used. A computed tomography (CT) scan is a test that your doctor can use to detect a problem within the body, plan surgery, or check how well a treatment works for you.

Studies have shown that below 10 mSv, which is a relevant dose range for radiography and some nuclear medicine and CT studies, there is no direct evidence to support an increased risk of cancer. In particular, radiation doses from some CT and nuclear medicine studies fall within the range that direct epidemiological evidence shows relate to an increased risk of cancer. Computed tomography and nuclear imaging have revolutionized diagnosis and treatment, almost eliminating the need for previously common exploratory surgeries and many other invasive and potentially risky procedures. Computed tomography and some nuclear medicine studies relate to much higher radiation doses than x-rays.