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New Campaign to Curb Radiation From CT Scans

Experts Hope to Reduce Use of Excessive Imaging Tests

Campaign to Reduce Radiation

Hendee says that the Image Wisely campaign is built on the highly successful Image Gently initiative aimed at reducing radiation exposure to children.

"If we can do it for kids, why not do it for everyone?" Hendee says.

As part of the initiative, the panel hopes all institutions that offer radiation tests put up signs with its icon, the owl, and a pledge to use radiation wisely, he says. "It's a constant reminder."

Practices that the panel hopes to eliminate include the use of tests to protect against malpractice suits, Hendee says. Also, sometimes doctors with a financial stake in a radiation center refer patients to that center.

Another problem: With technology changing so quickly, doctors may not always know which exam is most appropriate, he says. As part of the campaign, a computerized "decision system" has been developed to help guide doctors.

If you’re not sure why your doctor is ordering a test, ask, Hendee advises.

Also, bring a record of what imaging tests you have received when you visit a new facility, suggests James A. Brink, MD, chairman of diagnostic radiology at the Yale University School of Medicine.

The Image Wisely initiative is supported by RSNA, the American College of Radiology, the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, and the American Society of Radiologic Technologists.

Annual Radiation Doses

At the meeting, University of California, San Francisco researchers reported that the average annual radiation dose we receive nearly tripled over 15 years, from 0.80 mSv in 1994 to 2.3 mSv in 2008.

"A small but increasing proportion of patients received high doses," says researcher Ingrid Burger, MD, PhD.

In 1994, 0.49% and 0.04% of those studied received doses of more than 50 and 100 mSv, respectively. In 2008, 2.4% and 0.47% received doses exceeding these thresholds, she says.

The researchers reviewed nearly 24 million radiation exams of people enrolled in seven HMOs across the country.

CTs and the Elderly

In the other study, Basu and colleagues used Medicare claims data on over 10 million patients to estimate cancer risks related to CT scans.

They found a risk of between 0.02% and 0.04%, "surprisingly lower than we expected," Basu tells WebMD.

The researchers also found that the proportion of patients who had imaging studies increased over time. From 1998 to 2001, for example 42% of patients had scans, compared with 50% of those in 2002 to 2005.

Although only elderly people were studied, the findings could apply to middle-age people whose biological sensitivity to radiation is similar, Basu says.

Max Wintermark, MD, of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, agrees. He notes that elderly people account for the greatest use of CT imaging.

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