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February 13, 2013

How Much Radiation Exposure Occurs with a CT Scan? X-ray? Sunlight?

A common concern now is how much radiation exposure occurs with common radiological testing such as x-rays and CT scans, especially given the small increased risk of cancer with accumulated exposure over years.

Of note, ultrasounds and MRI scans do not emit radiation. MRI scans use magnets while ultrasounds use sound waves in order to obtain imaging information.

So, here's a chart comparing such tests with common environmental radiation exposure such as sunlight. Information taken from

Radiation Amount
Sunlight (high-altitude city) 6 mSv per year
Sunlight (sea-level city) 3.1 mSv per year
Frequent Flyer 1 - 6.7 mSv
Single Airflight coast-to-coast 0.01 - 0.03 mSv
Smoke 20 cigarettes per day 53 mSv
CT Chest 7 mSv
CT Head 2 mSv
Nuclear Stress Test (Technicium) 9.4 mSv
Nuclear Stress Test (Thallium) 40.7 mSv
Barium Swallow 5 mSv
Mammogram 0.4 mSv
Chest X-ray 0.1 mSv
Dental X-ray (Bitewing) 0.02 mSv

Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids. He is also the chief medical officer of O2Labz, a medical and scientific 3D animation company.Google+ Christopher Chang, MD Bio

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