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Low-dose radiation from medical scans may increase cancer risk for heart attack patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Cardiac imaging following a heart attack has been linked to an increased cancer risk because of the exposure to low-dose radiation, according to a new study.

Radiation from computer tomography (CT) scans, angiography and nuclear scans may put heart patients at a higher risk of certain cancers, especially patients with known or suspected coronary artery disease who may have to undergo numerous scans. In many cases, these imaging tests are replacing traditional stress tests and echocardiography, which do not administer radiation.

Researchers at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and and the Jewish General Hospital in Montréal, Quebec, analyzed data on 82,861 patients (median age 63 and 32 percent female) who experienced a heart attack between 1996 and 2006 but who did not have a history of cancer. Of these patients, 77 percent underwent at least one cardiac procedure with low-dose ionizing radiation within one year following their heart attack.

The researchers found 12,020 incidences of cancer during the follow-up period with two-thirds of the cancers found in the abdomen/pelvis and chest areas.

Based on their findings, the researchers recommended "prospectively documenting the imaging tests and procedures that each patient undergoes and estimating his or her cumulative exposure to low-dose ionizing radiation."

According to the American Cancer Society, non-ionizing radiation -- low-frequency radiation such as that from visible light, infrared rays, microwaves and radio waves -- is not linked to an increased risk of cancer.

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Review Date: 
February 8, 2011
Last Updated:
February 9, 2011