Many patients are concerned about the amount of radiation exposure they will receive during treatment and surveillance for scoliosis. Radiation exposure has been linked to some cancers, and doctors and patients alike want to minimize any risk that XR pose to patients. Since x-rays are one of the best ways to follow the progression of a curvature and determine the need for treatment, they are often a part of the care of a patient with scoliosis. Luckily, with modern techniques, the amount of radiation exposure can be minimized.
During a physical examination, the doctor can determine whether it is likely that a patient has scoliosis. Doctors can use a scoliometer to determine a person's spine rotations, an indirect measure of their curvature size. While not as accurate as XR, it's a good method to determine if a patient's curve is worsening. In many cases, however, x-rays are unavoidable when trying to decide if a patient needs treatment, such as a brace or surgery.
For those patients who need XR, modern machines and shielding techniques result in a very low amount of radiation exposure to the breast tissue. It is breast cancer risk from the scoliosis x-rays that concerns most doctors. This exposure is about 10% of the radiation exposure that people living on the east coast of the United States get from the atmosphere1. By keeping the number of x-rays to a minimum (only a few times per year), and using lead shields to cover the breast tissue, we are able to minimize the radiation effects on patients. The FDA has published online a list of techniques that can be used to decrease radiation exposure in patients with scoliosis2. Patients can discuss these methods with their provider to ensure that the x-rays are done in the safest way possible.