By Kay Quinn Healthbeat Reporter

St. Louis (KSDK) - Doctors use x-ray images to help them see everything from broken bones to cancer. But what about the radiation risks from having the x-ray in the first place?

It's the subject of this week's 8 Ways to Prevent Cancer segment.

"The real risk is really, really, really small. The greater risk actually comes from not appropriately following up on routine studies in people who have cancer," said Dr. Andrew Bierhals with the Siteman Cancer Center.

And if you need the study to look for a life-threatening illness like cancer, the benefit is worth the risk.

But because CT scans alone can deliver 100 to 500 times the radiation associated with an ordinary X-ray, getting one of those should be only done when necessary.

"Where we need to be cautious is people who are getting scans or studies to confirm they're well. So a lot of these screening exams or screening ct's from head to toe to look for a cancer that has not been recommended by let's say the American Cancer Society. Those are the ones we worry about the risk because you're really getting little to no benefit from the study itself," said Dr. Bierhals.

So what if you're being imaged a lot?

"The dose is cumulative however you've got to look at why are you being imaged a lot? If you're being imaged a lot because you have underlying cancer again the risk of not catching the cancer, recurrence, is far greater than the potential risk of developing cancer, or another cancer from the radiation," said Dr. Bierhals.

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