Studies Show High Cancer Risk from CT Scans

This story seems to be popping up everywhere after I first heard it on NPR. A study to be released this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine, reports that CT scans are exposing patients to far more radiation than previously believed and in doses that could cause thousands of cancer cases each year.

CT scans, which use computer and X-ray technology to create detailed internal images, have become a very common procedure due to its accessibility and accuracy. In fact, nearly 70 million CT scans were conducted last year alone. It turns out, however, that CT scans expose patients to far greater radiation than conventional X-rays and the benefits of conducting the diagnostic test may be outweighed by the dangers.

The study reviewed approximately 1100 patients undergoing various routine CT scans. The results were startling. First, there is a huge variance in the amount of radiation sustained by each patient. The dose of radiation for a multiphase abdomen-pelvis CT study ranged from 6 to 90 millisieverts, and the average dose was 31 millisieverts. Dr. Andrew Einstein of Columbia University stated that 90 millisieverts, depending on how counted, is equal to “many thousands of chest x-rays.” Thousands!

One CT Scan procedure can generate nearly thirty years worth of background radiation to which humans are typically exposed.

What is startling to me about this story is that this information was never discovered sooner. How is it possible that so few recognized the extreme dangers inherent in one of our most common diagnostic tests.

If such an exposure can truly cause cancer, then lawsuits are bound to occur. I am curious to see what information will be uncovered during the discovery phase as to how much was known regarding the danger of these seemingly innocent tests. This may be one to watch.