Uncategorized

CT scans increase the risk of cancer

Two new studies out yesterday in the Archives of Internal Medicine journal address this issue with troubling results. We’ve written before about the new Preventive Health Task Force recommendation changes on routine mammograms for women under 50, and these two new studies are taking on another area where scans are overused. CT scans are enormously popular, and they can be a great diagnostic tool that helps treat serious conditions and avoid exploratory surgery. However, as noted in the commentary accompanying the studies, they carry their own very significant risks:

In other words, 15 000 persons may die as a direct result of CT scans physicians had ordered in 2007 alone. Presumably, as the number of CT scans increase from the 2007 rate, the number of excess cancers also will increase. In light of these data, physicians (and their patients) cannot be complacent about the hazards of radiation or we risk creating a public health time bomb.

The articles in this issue make clear that there is far more radiation from medical CT scans than has been recognized previously, in amounts projected to cause tens of thousands of excess cancers annually. Also, as these scans have become more sensitive, incidental findings lead to additional testing (and often more radiation), biopsies, and anxiety. Although a guiding principle in medicine is to ensure that the benefit of a procedure or therapy outweighs the risk, the explosion of CT scans in the past decade has outpaced evidence of their benefit.

The other interesting finding in these studies is the enormous variation between scans in the amount of radiation dose given, even for the same scan for the same condition in the same hospital. This sort of variation can be fixed by standardizing techniques and therefore lowering drastically the radiation dosages patients receive overall.

Health reform is about containing costs and improving care and studies like these make the case for how we can accomplish both of these goals at the same time. As with the debate over routine mammography though, the overuse of CT scans shows the effort it will take to change people’s minds that more testing and more health care is always better health care. A few years ago full-body annual CT scans were all the rage among well-heeled executives. The research today shows that fad likely caused many cancers among those executives “lucky” enough to have the money for such treatment. Let’s not continue to make the same mistake.

3 Comments


  1. […] here to read the rest:  The Progressive Pulse – CT scans increase the risk of cancer By admin | category: principle variation | tags: benefit, blatantly, interesting, past, […]

  2. EBB

    December 16, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    For similar information, I highly recommend Nortin Hadler’s book Worried Sick – he has an interesting suggestion on how to do health care reform in the back.

  3. IBXer

    December 16, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    “Health reform is about containing costs and improving care”

    No it isn’t. If it was, then at least one of the bills in Congress would move in that direction but both move in the opposite direction and make things far worse.

Check Also

Senator Richard Burr: Makes up his own facts about NC Medicaid in order to criticize it

North Carolina’s Senator Burr used to be a ...

Top Stories from NCPW

  • News
  • Commentary

The $23 billion budget deal speeding through the N.C. General Assembly this week includes a platoon [...]

Royal Diadem Jewelers in Greensboro sets itself apart in a number of small ways - fast and friendly [...]

Over one weekend last October, more than a half-foot of rain fell on the small town of Vass in Moore [...]

The North Carolina Court of Appeals celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. As the court heads in [...]

The final budget that lawmakers have proposed fails to strengthen the foundation of North Carolina’s [...]

Most of the initial headlines about the final budget agreement announced Monday afternoon by legisla [...]

Unexplained, backroom maneuver would rob already underfunded anti-poverty program There’s no denying [...]

Women and their access to health care has been in the news these past few months, as the plan to rep [...]

Featured | Special Projects

Trump + North Carolina
In dozens of vitally important areas, policy decisions of the Trump administration are dramatically affecting and altering the lives of North Carolinians. This growing collection of stories summarizes and critiques many of the most important decisions and their impacts.
Read more


HB2 - The continuing controversy
Policy Watch’s comprehensive coverage of North Carolina’s sweeping anti-LGBT law.
Read more