Radiation from CT scans increases the risk of cancer

One of the best ways to combat unnecessary tests is to truthfully expose their risks and complications.

Patients can only make an informed decision after such a discussion with their physicians, and too often, the media ignores publicizing risk. If, for instance, more airtime was spent discussing the risks of breast cancer screening, the outcry wouldn’t have been as great.

Perhaps that’s changing.

The Archives of Internal Medicine recently released a study concluding that “roughly 72 million CT scans performed in the U.S. in 2007 will ultimately cause some 29,000 cases of cancer.”

That’s an attention grabber.

It was found that the amount of radiation given off by CT scans can vary by a factor of ten, based on the model of the scanner itself and the hospital the test was performed in. That makes it difficult to truly estimate a patient’s exposure.

Extrapolating their model to CT-angiography, a controversial heart scan that gaining popularity, it’s estimated that “one in 270 women who [receive the study] at age 40 will develop cancer as a result of the scan, and one in 600 men.”

That’s a huge number, and one that warrants discussion whenever the test is being considered. Let’s hope the media gives this as much attention as they do with their traditionally disproportionate reporting on a given test’s benefits.

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