What’s the Trouble with CT Scans

KUSA 9 news recently reported on potential dangers of CT scans in medical diagnosing. In discovering and diagnosing some of the most deadly diseases in the human body, Computed Tomography or CT scans, also known as CAT scans, have saved countless lives. CT scanning machines are powerful devices that harness radiation waves to produce 3D imaging of specific parts of the body. With the influx of radiation waves, how much could prove dangerous?

Our bodies are exposed to radiation everyday. From sun rays to our cell phones and laptops, we experience radiation waves constantly. But when it comes to our health and well being, how much is too much? In a recent Consumer Reports’ article, questions were raised about the dangers of overexposure during routine CT scans.

Some findings from the article include:

  • For each scan there is a 24 percent increased chance of cancer
  • Children younger than 5 face a 35 percent increased chance of cancer
  • 15,000 people are estimated to die due to cancers caused by CT scans alone

The Consumer Reports’ article is wrought with terrifying data. But among these morbid concerns, is a contradicting quote from radiologist James Duncan, who explains, “…It’s almost impossible to link radiation exposure from any one medical test to a future illness.” Overexposure is a serious concern, but to claim any and all CT scans will dramatically increase your risk of cancer is outlandish. There are concerns amongst physicians, and there are protocols and procedures to reduce overexposure.

According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, “For the average person, CT scans yield a .05 percent chance of developing future cancer.” Is .05 percent worth the risk if you are trying to figure out whether you have cancer? Getting a second opinion can vastly change your outlook, especially when it comes to the health of you and your loved one’s. Below, we compared the benefits and risks of CT scans:

Benefits:

  • CT scans can image bone, soft tissue and blood vessels at the same time
  • No radiation remains in the patient’s body after the scan
  • CT scans can reveal internal injuries and bleeding quickly enough to save lives

Risks:

  • The effect of radiation exposure varies with patients
  • Pregnant women should not be exposed to CT scan
  • Children are more sensitive to radiation, and should not be exposed to radiation unless absolutely necessary

Do the benefits outweigh the concerns? This is the most important question when deciding if a CT scan is right for a patient. According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s (MSKCC) medical physicist, Lawrence Dauer, there are fundamental principles that physicians follow before proceeding with CT scans.

1.) Justification: Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

2.) Optimization: Obtaining the best image by using the lowest dose of radiation to reduce potential future risk.

At The Medical Center of Aurora (TMCA), patient safety and dose reduction are number one priorities prior to, during, and after CT scanning procedures. In doing so, patients are thoroughly informed of every aspect of the process by following Radiation Right guidelines. Radiation Right is a confidential and detailed oriented description of the operation’s benefits and risks, to make sure the assigned test is justified and the dosage is “As Low As Reasonably Possible” (ALARP). For a comprehensive outline of the Radiation Right and other patient safety protocols go to the TMCA website.

Increasing the dialogue between patient and physician is vital to maintaining peace of mind, agreement and understanding throughout the treatment process. In discussing potential CT scanning, patients and physicians should be engaged in a joint-decision process. If concerned, patients should ask and discuss the alternatives. Although alternatives, such as MRI and Ultrasound do not yield the same results or information as a CT scan, these options should be discussed and accessible if there are concerns. Before you make your decision, talk to your doctor and find out what is best for you or your loved one. The right decision may save a life.