In Belgium, medical exposure to ionising radiation accounts for more than 95% of the total exposure to non-natural radiation sources. The remainder originates from other applications such as nuclear energy or precipitation from atomic bomb tests during the cold war and following the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. Medical exposure varies considerably from person to person, depending upon the number and type of examinations a person is subjected to.
On average a Belgian citizen has to undergo 1, 2 x-ray examinations each year, which in 14% of cases involves a CT-scan. With this technique a computer builds up a detailed medical image from a wide range of x-rays, which results in a considerable dose of radiation.
In addition to medical imaging, nuclear medicine administers a radioactive substance to the patient. The distribution of the substance is measured outside the body to give consultants access to a clear picture of the function of various organs.
Radioactivity can also be used to treat cancer. This process is referred to as radiotherapy. Its success depends upon the accuracy with which the destructive rays can be targeted at the tumours without affecting healthy tissue.
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