“Machines now are smart enough to know when the x-ray tube is at the 12 or 6 o’clock position, and it can reduce the radiation exposure and not sacrifice image quality,” Seltzer says. “The end result is more economical use of radiation and generally lower doses.”
While automatic tube-current modulation technology has been on the market for several years, other methods of reducing exposure, such as adaptive statistical iterative reconstruction, are just becoming commercially available. This image-filtering process allows technicians to see a higher-quality image from a study done with a lower dose of radiation.
But this technology can only be used in certain situations, Weaver warns.
“You have to make sure that you still retain your ability to see the anomalies that you need to see,” he says. “The risk of radiation is generally less than the benefits of the exam. You want to make sure you retain your ability to see the pathology.”
When reduced-radiation tests are appropriate, the benefits can add up.
“If it’s a routine study, many times you can lower the radiation dose and still get really no perceptible significant difference [in image quality],” Lalaji says. “If we can lower the dose by 20% for a routine exam and still get the same image quality and do that over 30 years, that makes a significant difference in terms of radiation exposure for a patient.”