Too Much Radiation From Medical Imaging?
Researchers Say Patients Need to Weigh Risks vs. Benefits of Imaging Tests
WebMD News Archive
Value of Some Medical Imaging Unclear
In a perspective published with the study, cardiologist Michael S. Lauer,
MD, of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) presented the
hypothetical case of a 58-year-old man named Jim with risk factors for heart
disease who has an inconclusive nuclear stress test followed by another
commonly used imaging test known as CT angiography, which also fails to confirm
The two tests would result in more than 20 mSv of radiation exposure.
"Jim's story reflects outpatient practice that has become increasingly
common in the United States, which has the world's highest per capita imaging
rate," Lauer writes.
"Most physicians who order imaging tests experience no consequences for
incurring costs for procedures of unproven value. On the contrary, they or
their colleagues are paid for their services, and their patients don't complain
because the costs are covered."
While health care reform has the potential to slow the growth of medical
imaging, Lauer says the real challenge is to identify which tests add value for
the diagnosis and management of disease and which do not.
He tells WebMD that for some tests, like mammography, the benefits are
clear. But for others, like nuclear stress testing to identify heart disease,
the risks may very well outweigh the benefits.
"Medical practice should be based on the most rigorous science, and we don't
have that for many of these tests," he says. "We need large, well-designed
trials to figure this out."