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Can CT Scans Raise Cancer Risk?

Jump in CT Scans May Lead to More Cancer, Experts Predict

CT Scans for Screening

CT scanning is increasingly being talked about as a potential screening tool for lung and colorectal cancers and other diseases.

Whole-body CT scanning is also being marketed to healthy people without symptoms or suspicion of disease as a proactive health care strategy, although this use is controversial.

The ACR does not endorse whole-body CT scanning for patients without symptoms, and the FDA notes that whole-body screening provides "uncertain benefit with the potential for some risk."

"We are at a sentinel event where medical exposure is now the biggest source of radiation exposure to the U.S. population," New Mexico radiologist Fred Mettler, MD, said at the news conference. "And we can expect this exposure to get much bigger when these screening applications kick in."

While the case for the use of CT to diagnose existing symptoms is much clearer, Brenner and Hall argue that CT scanning is still too widely used, especially in hospital ERs.

"If you go to an emergency room with a belly ache or a chronic headache you will almost certainly be given a CT scan even before you see a doctor," Brenner says.

It is also common for patients to have duplicate CT scans performed for the same medical condition as they change doctors or hospitals, he adds. One solution to this would be to provide patients with a DVD of their CT scan to take with them from doctor to doctor.

"This is an easy fix, but it isn't being done," Brenner says.

Hall says the purpose of the new report is to raise awareness about the potential risks and not to scare anyone away from having a CT scan if they need one.

"It is clear that for patients with symptoms, CT is a wonderful diagnostic tool," he said. "What we are pushing for is to limit the use of CT to situations where it really is needed."

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