Surprisingly High Cancer Risk from CT Scans

Isn’t it nice to know that the medical profession caused 29,000 future cases of cancer in 2007 from the CT scans it performed on patients (a great tool f…

Isn’t it nice to know that the medical profession caused 29,000 future cases of cancer in 2007 from the CT scans it performed on patients (a great tool for future business).  Think twice before falling for a heart scan add you hear on the radio, the risk for a woman getting cancer from it is 1 in 270.  These are some of the remarkable numbers coming from two new studies published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Keep in mind that health organizations need to use their expensive machines to justify having them.  In the U.S. alone over 70 million CT scans are performed a year.  The dose of radiation varies; though on average physicians are using four times the recommended amount of radiation per scan (apparently so they can get a better view).  Depending on who is performing the test and what part of the body is being tested, one CT scan has the equivalent radiation ranging from 30 – 442 chest x-rays, with 1 million of these scans per year at the highest end of this range.  Scans of the abdominal area and pelvis have the highest amount of radiation, with brain scans, chest scans, and heart scans taking second.  Individuals getting more than one scan to follow up on a problem are at particular risk from repeat exposure.

Granted, scans give doctors and patients information not easily attainable any other way.  However, with an obvious financial motivation to perform scans the true need for them in many situations is called into question – especially considering the emerging cancer risk.  I reported two years ago that 20 million of these scans each year are unnecessary.  The cancer risk for children from CT scans is especially high, so parents beware.

In the first new study researchers sought to put a number to the future cancer risk from these CT scans – a number which turned out to be 29,000 cases for the amount of CT scans performed in 2007.  This procedure is creating an astounding number of yearly future cancer cases.  Whatever happened to the idea of first doing no harm?

In the second study researchers found that radiation doses varied widely, there was no standardization of testing in the country, and patients were in general being over-exposed to radiation.  In others words, doctors are being reckless and negligent in their use of CT scans while causing all these cases of cancer.

It amazes me that the practice of medicine is getting a free pass in the current health care debate.