Too Much Radiation From Full-Body CT Scans?
Repeat Full-Body CT Scans May Raise Cancer Risk
Electronic Checkups continued...
"The idea is to replace annual physicals with this noninvasive test, which might detect things you wouldn't usually see -- like a small tumor, or the beginnings of heart disease," he says. "It has the potential for seeing things -- mainly cancers -- rather earlier than they might otherwise have been detected."
James P. Borgstede, MD, chairman of the American College of Radiology's board of chancellors, notes that the ACR does not sanction the use of full-body CT scans for screening healthy people. He notes, however, that the ACR doesn't censure doctors who perform the procedure.
"I think the people who get these scans are the worried well," Borgstede tells WebMD. "They are very concerned about health but tend to be very safe, low-risk people. They think they will live longer or have a better-quality life if they get these scans, I guess. But there is no data that support they will live longer or better if they have one of these exams."
Richard L. Morin, PhD, chairman of the ACR's commission on medical physics, says that given lack of an established benefit, the risks Brenner identifies raise doubts about screening healthy people with full-body CT scans.
"This paper is important in demonstrating explicitly that the risk from whole-body CT or any other diagnostic radiology exam is not zero," Morin tells WebMD. "It supports the thinking that screening whole-body CT scans of healthy individuals is not a wise course of action."
Borgstede and Morin note, however, that the risk/benefit equation changes for patients with symptoms who need CT scans to help diagnose a disease. These patients' symptoms usually tell the doctor that a particular part of the body should be scanned. Full-body scans, Borgstede says, usually aren't needed.
"We support clinical trials of CT screening for lung and colon cancer -- but those are studies of selected populations we think may be at risk of very serious disease," he says. "That is different from screening the whole population from head to toe. These screenings are planned only for the body area at risk."