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Health Alert: CT Scans Not So Safe

April 14, 2011

I came upon this article while researching the Medicare and Medicaid voucher issue: A Game Changing Statistic: One in 250

Here is an excerpt:

Last month, my colleague Rebecca Smith-Bindman, professor of radiology, epidemiology, and ob/gyn at UCSF and one of the nation’s experts in the risks of radiographs, gave Medical Grand Rounds at UCSF. Her talk was brimming with amazing statistics, but this is the one that took my breath away:

A 20-year old woman who gets an abdominal-pelvic CT scan (i.e., just about any young woman coming to the ED with belly pain) has a 1 in 250 chance of getting cancer from that single scan.

Did that fully register? One CAT scan, which until recently most of us ordered with no more restraint than we exhibit when asking the Starbucks barista for a tall latte, will cause cancer in one out of every 250 patients. Two-hundred fifty: that’s the number of students in my college Bio 101 class. Wow.

This is particularly scary given the remarkable increase in the use of this technology. Get these hair raising stats:

* Three million CT scans were performed in the U.S. in 1980. In 2011, there will be 72 million, an average of 19,500 every day.
* One in five Americans will receive a CT scan in any given year; some experts suggest that at least one-third of those scans are unnecessary.
* Between 2000 and 2005, Medicare spending for imaging studies more than doubled, from $6.6 billion to $13.7 billion, twice the rate of growth of physician fees.

And, although none of these examples has quite the impact of the 1-in-250 statistic, there are lots of other scary risk data, such as:

* The best estimates are that radiation from CT scans causes 29,000 excess cancers each year in the U.S., mostly in women.
* Researchers estimate that 15,000 people will die from the direct effects of the 72 million CT scans performed in 2007 alone.
* A 2004 study found that less than 50 percent of radiologists, and 9 percent of ER docs, were aware that CT scans could increase the subsequent risk of cancer.
* A multiphase abdominal/pelvic CT scan has the same radiation wallop as 500 transcontinental flights, 450 chest radiographs, and 74 mammograms.
* And those airport body scanners you’ve been so worried about? You’d need to be scanned 200,000 times in order to accumulate the radiation that you get from a single CT scan. I’m a 1K United flyer, but I won’t close in on 200,000 scans for the next couple of centuries.

Read entire article, click here

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