Patients need to know about CT scan and X-ray radiation

Americans get the most radiation in the world.

That fact is hardly surprising, when you consider the number of medical tests patients endure.

According to a story from the Associated Press, “the U.S. accounts for half of the most advanced procedures that use radiation, and the average American’s dose has grown sixfold over the last couple of decades.”

Doctors often don’t keep track of the number of scans and radiation exposure patients accumulate. So it’s not surprising that some patients with chronic symptoms have 10 or more CT scans. A more formal way to keep track of radiation exposure, perhaps with electronic medical records, would be helpful for doctors.

A recent study suggested that up to 2% of cancers is due to radiation from diagnostic tests. That fact should be better publicized to patients, along with the amount of radiation each test emits.

This X-ray risk calculator, for instance, is a handy tool for patients prior to undergoing a scan.

Also, diminishing the incentives to ordering the scans in the first place needs to be addressed. This includes malpractice fear, managing patients’ expectation to “do something,” and coordinating care between multiple physicians.

I applaud the AP for this piece, which continues their excellent series illustrating the risks of overtesting and overtreatment.