Popular Use of CT Scans Increasing Radiation Exposure

Popular Use of CT Scans Increasing Radiation Exposure

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Ed Yeates reportingCT scans are increasing a patient's exposure to radiation and the risk of cancer, at least the Center for Radiological Research thinks so and has published a major study in this week's New England Journal of Medicine.

CT scans are invaluable. They allow physicians to peer inside the body, diagnosing cancers, disease or injuries. But researchers say because CT use has jumped from only three million scans in 1980 to more than 62 million per year, radiation exposure is a problem.

Christian Davidson, M.D., vice chairman of radiology at the University of Utah, said, "With CT utilization going significantly up, we have shared those concerns with what is now being seen in the public eye as a public health risk."

We're exposed to harmless background radiation every day. A conventional x-ray film is also hardly a worry. But the increase in personal radiation exposure from CT scans has about doubled since 1980, and children are the highest at risk for developing cancer later on.

Radiologists say part of the issue involves overuse. "The temptation is to use that whenever there is a question. The challenge is to find the balance between when it really is necessary to expose the patient and look inside and find out what the answer is versus is there some other way to do it," Dr. Davidson said.

The New England Journal study says at the current usage rate, within a few decades, about 1.5 to 2 percent of all cancers in this country may be due to the radiation from CT scans patients are undergoing now. But radiological researchers are trying to turn things around.

New high-speed scanners, like one at the U, are dramatically reducing radiation exposure. Other systems come up with the lowest dose for an image, using what is called dose modulation. Physicians are also being asked to replace CT, when appropriate, with other options like ultrasound or MRI's.

The study suggests both patient and doctor may have to ultimately share the burden in monitoring unnecessary irradiation by keeping track of scans and dosages.

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