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Cancer Genetics

MRI Scans and Cancer

01/28/1999

Question:

I'm not sure if this is a cancer "genetics" question...I would like to know if there are any risks to having MRI's, Magnetic resonance imaging, for examinations of the brain. I have read about electro magnetic fields being a possible cancer risk. Do MRI's cause electro magnetic fields, and if so, can this cause cancer? Thank you!

Answer:

The role of electric and magnetic fields in causing cancer is a topic of much public interest, but adequate scientific evidence to make judgments is simply not available. There are two situations that have raised concern: low-frequency electric and magnetic fields around electric power transmission lines and high static magnetic fields connected with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems. Unlike X-rays, power low-frequency fields do not break the chemical bonds in the molecules of our bodies. Unlike microwaves, power frequency fields cannot cause significant tissue heating. There have been conflicting studies which do not provide convincing proof that such risks are an important consideration. Scientists no longer state, however, that there are no health risks. The potential health hazards from medical MRI studies may result from the simultaneous exposure to a high static magnetic field, pulsed magnetic gradient fields, and a radiofrequency electromagnetic field. However, there are no known hazards in humans except for the magnetic force on such metallic implants as surgical clips and pacemakers. Experiments seeking to determine the effects of MRI on causing cancer have all shown no effect. Prolonged exposure to MRI examination does not lead to teratogenic effects (embryonic defects) in mice either.

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Response by:

Paula E Gregory, PhD Paula E Gregory, PhD
Formerly
Director, Outreach and Education
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University