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Curbs on CT scans are urged

A report cautions against spiraling radiation exposure, especially among children.

Published November 29, 2007


Millions of Americans, especially children, are needlessly getting dangerous radiation from "super X-rays" that raise the risk of cancer and are increasingly used to diagnose medical problems, a new report warns.

Experts agree with the need to curb these tests particularly in children, who are more susceptible to radiation and more likely to develop cancer from it.

The authors "have brought to attention some real serious potential public health issues," said Dr. Arl Van Moore, head of the American College of Radiology's board of chancellors.

The risk from a single CT, or computed tomography, scan to an individual is small. But "we are very concerned about the built-up public health risk over a long period of time," said Eric Hall, who wrote the report with fellow Columbia University medical physicist David Brenner.

It is published in today's New England Journal of Medicine and was paid for by federal grants.

The average American's total radiation exposure has nearly doubled since 1980, largely because of CT scans. About 62-million scans were done in the United States last year, up from 3-million in 1980. More than 4-million were in children.

CT scans became popular because they offer a quick, relatively cheap and painless way to get 3D pictures so detailed they give an almost surgical view into the body.

Doctors use them to evaluate trauma, belly pain, seizures, chronic headaches, kidney stones and other woes, especially in busy emergency rooms. In kids, they are used to diagnose or rule out appendicitis.

But CT scans put out a lot of radiation, while ultrasound and MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, scans often are safer options that do not expose people to radiation, Brenner and Hall said.

The authors stressed that they were not trying to scare people who need CT scans away from having them. In most cases, the benefits exceed the risks, especially for diagnostic scans. However, using the scans to screen people with no symptoms of illness has not been shown to save lives.


Ask before scans

Here are questions for any doctor who recommends a computed tomography, or CT, scan.

-Will the scan determine my treatment?

-What about alternatives like ultrasound or MRIs?

-How about just waiting?

-Does any research show this test will help me or lessen my chances of dying?

-Is this being done to diagnose a specific problem? (CT scans for people with no symptoms are not recommended).

-Is more than one scan necessary?

-Is the facility accredited by the American College of Radiology?

-What is being done to make sure I receive the lowest possible radiation dose?

-Does this center regularly do scans on children and follow guidelines for adjusting doses to reduce radiation?



[Last modified November 29, 2007, 02:28:23]

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