Women overestimate mammo radiation

Women significantly overestimate the amount of radiation associated with mammography--a situation that could dissuade them from undergoing screening, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the American Roentgen Ray Society in San Diego last week.

For the study, which took place over a three-month period, 133 women between the ages of 19 and 89 completed a questionnaire about radiation exposure in which they were asked to rate the amount of radiation in a single mammogram (0.4 mSv) compared to five other radiation benchmarks:

  • The extra dose received from spending two days in Denver (0.006 mSv)
  • The dose received from an airplane flight from Los Angeles to New York (0.04 mSv)
  • The average annual dose from food (0.3 mSv)
  • The average yearly background dose (3.1 mSv)
  • And the annual limit for a radiation worker (50 mSv)

The women also were asked for their highest level of education attained and whether they had received any education or explanation about the risks and benefits of mammography.

Of the 78 women who responded to the radiation benchmark question, none were able to order the radiation benchmarks correctly, and on average significantly overestimated the amount of radiation associated with mammography compared to the other benchmarks.

Similarly, research published last year in JAMA Internal Medicine suggested that patients don't have a good understanding of radiation dose and the potential health risks associated with radiation. For instance, according to the researchers, one-third of the patients involved in the study didn't even know the imaging scan involved radiation.

"Our findings indicate a need to educate patients about the amount of radiation they are exposed to during a single screening mammogram," Jacqueline Hollada, a member of the University of California Los Angeles research team that conducted the study presented last week, said in an announcement. "Using everyday sources of radiation exposure as benchmarks can help add perspective and improve patients' understanding of radiation levels associated with mammography, thereby reducing anxiety related to the examination."

To learn more:
- see the study's abstract
- read the announcement

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