X-ray imaging revolutionized medicine by allowing doctors to look inside the human body from the outside. X-rays are still one of the most common imaging studies used in medicine, for everything from routine dental exams to identifying lung diseases. X-rays are extremely useful but they involve using powerful waves of radiation.
Too much X-ray exposure can be dangerous, increasing the risks of cancer and other tissue damage from radiation. X-ray overexposure can involve too high a dose, taking X-rays without protective measures, or prolonged exposure to X-rays over time. If a doctor or radiologist overexposes a patient to X-rays which causes an injury, the patient may be a victim of medical malpractice.
When a doctor fails to follow medical standards for X-ray use and exposure, it can increase the risk of injury for the patient. If you were injured by radiation because of X-ray overexposure, you may be able to recover money in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Contact Gilman & Bedigian today online or by phone at 800-529-6162 for help with your malpractice claim.
What Are X-rays?
X-radiation was discovered in the late 1800s by a German scientist who gave the rays the name of “X-rays” to signify an unknown type of radiation. X-rays are also referred to as Röntgen radiation, after the discoverer, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, who received a Nobel Prize for his discovery.
X-rays are shorter than ultraviolet (UV) rays and longer than gamma rays. The rays can pass through some objects and early experiments showed that a photograph could be taken of the human body using exposure to X-rays, that would pass through skin and tissue but be blocked by denser material, like bone. X-ray images can identify densities inside the human body.
What Are X-rays Used For?
There are several modern uses for X-rays in medicine. The most common use of X-rays in medicine are for projectional radiographs, what most people think of as taking X-rays. An X-ray involves using an X-ray generator to send waves through a patient with an X-ray detector on the other side, to create an image. An X-ray can be used on the bones to look for breaks or on teeth to look for cavities.
Taking X-ray images of the lungs with a chest X-ray can help identify lung diseases, including cancer, edema, or pneumonia. In the digestive system, an X-ray image can help detect bowel obstructions. Other uses include detecting gallstones, kidney stones, and evaluating orthopedic implants.
Computed tomography (CT) is more advanced imaging that takes multiple images of areas to the body, to combine cross-sections to create a three-dimensional image. CT scans can be used in a variety of medical procedures, to evaluate disease or conditions in the head, neck, lungs, blood vessels, heart, abdomen, and other areas of the body. A CT scan can help look for evidence of cancer, stroke, coronary artery disease, lung conditions, and other conditions that cannot be seen from the outside.
X-rays can also be used in treatment of cancer. Radiation therapy uses high doses of radiation that are directed at tumors and cancerous cells in the brain, lung, prostate, breast, and other areas of the body. Lower energy X-rays can also be used to treat skin cancers. The amount of radiation exposure in radiation therapy is much higher than radiation for diagnostic imaging.
Are X-rays Dangerous?
X-rays are a type of high-frequency ionizing radiation, which have enough energy to ionize molecules, causing chemical changes. There are natural sources of X-ray radiation, including radiation exposure from space. People who live at high altitude and passengers on an airline have an increased exposure to radiation.
According to the American Cancer Society, “If ionizing radiation passes through a cell in the body, it can lead to mutations (changes) in the cell’s DNA, the part of the cell that contains its genes (blueprints). Sometimes this causes the cell to die, but sometimes it can lead to cancer later on. The amount of damage caused in the cell is related to the dose of radiation it receives.”
The damage to cells can be immediate and only takes exposure for a fraction of a second. However, when there is enough damage for cancer to develop, it may take years before the extent of the damage becomes known.
X-ray radiation exposure is often expressed as the amount of absorbed dose of energy per unit of mass. The equivalent dose is multiplied by a factor related to the medical effects of radiation exposure, which can be expressed as sieverts (Sv) or millisieverts (mSv, 1/1000th of a sievert). The effective dose refers to the risk of side effects, including developing cancer.
What Are the Exposure Limits for X-rays?
The amount of X-ray exposure from common medical treatments is relatively small. The annual average radiation exposure in the U.S. is about 3.1 mSv. A chest X-ray for an adult is about 0.1 mSv, which is equivalent to natural radiation exposure over about 10 days. However, other imaging procedures have a much higher effective doses of radiation.
According to the Radiological Society of North America, examples of procedures and approximate effective radiation dose are as follows:
- Computed tomography (CT) of the brain: 1.6 mSv
- Computed tomography (CT) of the abdomen and pelvis: 7.7 mSv
- Computed tomography (CT) of the colon: 6.0 mSv
- Computed tomography (CT) of the spine: 8.8 mSv
- Computed tomography (CT) of the chest: 6.1 mSv
- Coronary computed tomography angiography (CTA): 8.7 mSv
- X-ray of the hand or foot: Less than 0.001 mSv
- Bone densitometry (DEXA): 0.001 mSv
- Positron Emission Tomography–Computed Tomography (PET/CT) of the whole body: 22.7 mSv
- Screening mammography: 0.21 mSv
The risk of tissue damage, cell damage, and cancer development can increase with greater exposure. Exposure can involve single exposure of high doses or multiple procedures over a short period of time with lower doses. In general, there is an increased risk of cancer at radiation doses higher than 100 mSv.
According to the American Cancer Society, “Studies have linked radiation therapy to treat cancer with an increased risk of leukemia, thyroid cancer, early-onset breast cancer, and some other cancers.” Risk factors include the area of radiation, dosage, age of the patient, and use of other medical treatments. In general, if cancer does develop after radiation therapy, it may not develop for years.
X-Ray Overexposure in Children
In general, the dangers of X-ray exposure and radiation exposure are greater for children. This includes radiological imaging, such as X-rays, CT scans, digital radiography, nuclear medicine, ultrasounds, and fluoroscopy. Parents have to act as advocates for their children to make sure they understand the benefits, risks, and alternatives to X-ray exposure for children.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Children’s radiation exposure should be as low as possible because they are more sensitive to radiation than adults and they have a longer life ahead of them.” Unnecessary radiation exposure for children should be avoided.
Parents should make sure they ask the doctor about any questions they have when their child is undergoing radiation imaging or interventional radiation. According to the FDA, parents and caregivers are encouraged to:
- “Keep track of their child’s medical-imaging histories
- Ask the referring physician about the benefits and risks of imaging procedures, such as: How will the exam improve my child’s health care? Are there alternative exams to X-rays that are equally useful?
- Ask the imaging facility: How does the facility use reduced radiation techniques for children? Is there any advanced preparation necessary?”
Causes of X-ray Overexposure in Medical Care?
There are government regulations for some types of radiation exposure. For example, mammography machines and CT scan machines are supposed to be checked every year to make sure they are operating with the correct radiation output. CT imaging systems in the U.S. are subject to equipment standards under the Radiation Control for Health and Safety Act.
According to the FDA, the equipment performance standard:
- Establishes minimum radiation safety requirements for CT systems;
- Requires that manufacturers produce CT imaging systems that comply with the radiation safety requirements of the performance standard; and
- Requires manufacturers certify that their products meet the standard.”
If CT scanning equipment or X-ray equipment is not properly calibrated, maintained, and certified, it could be exposing a patient to dangerous levels of radiation. Overexposure can increase the risk of developing cancer later in life.
Another possible cause of overexposure could include “dose creep.” Patients can be exposed to inappropriately high radiographic waves. Overexposure of images may cause a doctor, dentist, or radiologist to require another X-ray or CT scan, doubling the exposure to radiation.
Who Is Responsible for X-ray Exposure Injuries?
Medical malpractice is a type of legal negligence where a doctor is liable for damage caused to the patient. For a medical malpractice claim, the patient needs to show the doctor breached their duty of care, the breach caused injury to the patient, and the patient suffered harm as a result. Breaching the standard of care can occur when a doctor deviates from medical standards.
For example, if a doctor exposes a patient to a higher than normal dose of radiation, which causes burns to the tissue or increases the risk of cancer, the doctor may have deviated from the standards of care. The standard of care in a medical malpractice case can be established by using an expert witness. A medical expert who is familiar with radiology practice can tell the jury whether the doctor’s actions were within the standard of care or were a deviation.
Depending on the type of accident and injury, the parties responsible for an X-ray exposure injury could include:
- X-Ray technician
- Medical assistant
- Interventional radiologist
- Radiation oncologist
- Pediatric radiologist
- Hospital or clinic
- X-ray equipment manufacturer
If you believe you were given a dangerous dose of x-ray radiation and want to know who might be responsible for your injuries, contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer for advice. Your attorney can file your medical malpractice lawsuit in court to help you recover money damages for your loss.
What Are the Damages in an X-ray Overexposure Malpractice Case?
If you are injured because of X-ray exposure, a medical malpractice lawsuit can help you recover financial losses. Losses in a medical malpractice lawsuit are known as damages. Damages can include economic and non-economic losses related to the medical error. In a medical malpractice lawsuit, damages can include:
- Medical bills
- Future medical care
- Lost wages
- Loss of earning potential
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
How Can I Find Out If I Have a Case After X-ray Injuries?
One of the problems with detecting X-ray overexposure is that the signs and symptoms of the error may not develop for years. It can take 5 years or more after exposure to higher levels of X-ray radiation before a patient starts to develop cancer. Some cancers can take 15 years or more to develop after the initial cellular damage caused by X-rays.
You may also have a case after X-ray overexposure if your doctor did not get informed consent before performing the medical procedure. When a doctor talks to a patient about undergoing a medical procedure, they are generally required to give the patient the necessary information about the procedure so the patient can decide their own care. Informed consent includes:
- Side effects and possible complications
- Reasonable alternatives
- Consequences of declining care
According to a study by the Joint Commission, almost 75% of patient consent forms do not include the basic elements of informed consent. Other problems with informed consent are a lack of consideration of the health literacy of the patient and a lack of shared decision-making between the doctor and patient. Make sure you understand the risks and benefits of any procedure before agreeing to treatment.
If you want to know if you have a malpractice claim after X-ray overexposure, you can talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Contact experienced medical malpractice trial attorneys Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.