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Cancer Risk from CT Scans May Be Underestimated

One-third of all ordered CT scans may be medically unnecessary

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 28 (HealthDay News) -- The growing use of computed tomography (CT) scans may have serious public health implications, as radiation exposure associated with these scans may increase the risk of cancer, particularly in children, according to an article published in the Nov. 29 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

David J. Brenner, Ph.D., and Eric J. Hall, of Columbia University in New York City, reviewed the use of CT scanning and its clinical implications, including radiation-related cancer risk.

Roughly 62 million CT scans are performed each year in the United States. The increase in CT-related radiation exposure may result in a future public health burden, and the authors predict that, in the next few decades, 1 to 2 percent of all cancers may be attributable to radiation from CT scans. To combat this, physicians can take the practical steps of reducing the CT-related radiation dose in individual patients, using other imaging modalities without radiation risk, such as ultrasound or MRI when possible, or simply prescribing fewer CT scans.

"From an individual standpoint, when a CT scan is justified by medical need, the associated risk is small relative to the diagnostic information obtained. However, if it is true that about one-third of all CT scans are not justified by medical need, and it appears to be likely, perhaps 20 million adults and, crucially, more than 1 million children per year in the United States are being irradiated unnecessarily," the authors write.

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