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Moving Toward Better Health

The official blog of Konicki Schumacher Chiropractic


Risk of CT Scans

Posted by Dr. Tom Konicki
Dr. Tom Konicki
Dr. Thomas Konicki earned his B.S. in Biology at the University of Cincinnati and then went on to the Los Ange...
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in Health And Wellness

CT Scan

In 1993, there were approximately 20 million CT scans per year.  In 2007, there were more than 72 million performed.  It has been said that Americans receive more medical radiation than any other country in the world.  Unfortunately, just one CT scan can increase your risk of cancer later in life.

CT stands for computerized tomography scan.  It is an excellent tool to detect injuries and tumors.  Essentially, it creates multiple slices through your body, which then can be manipulated by the computer.  For example, a regular plain film x-ray may miss a fracture or an early bone tumor.  The CT scan can pick this up.

CT scans are routinely used in emergency departments for trauma.  It is not unusual to receive one, two, three or more CT scans if involved in a car accident.  Each scan is directed to specific body parts.  For example, you may receive a brain/head CT scan and a neck CT scan even though these body parts are next to each other.  

The risk to CT scans is that they require a significant amount of radiation.  One CT of the head/brain equals 100 chest x-rays; a CT of the neck equals 150 chest x-rays.  One CT of the abdomen equals 400 chest x-rays.

The problem is that these CT scans can cause cancer later in life.  One study from the Archives of Internal Medicine projected that a single heart scan at the age of 40 would cause cancer later in 1 in 270 women and 1 in 600 men.  If you have a head CT scan, 1 in 8,100 women and 1 in 11,080 men would likely develop cancer from the radiation.  
A second study from the Archives of Internal Medicine notes that 29,000 future cancers could be related to CT scans received in 2007, most of these occurring in the abdomen and pelvis.  

Age is a significant factor.  A 3 year old female has a 1 in 500 chance of developing cancer from an abdominal CT.  If she receives the CT at age 30, she will have a 1 in 1,000 chance and a 1 in 3,333 chance at age 70.  

CT scans are less expensive than MRI studies and are often utilized at least in part because of this.  Often times, my patients are told that the insurance companies will not pay for an MRI study (a common alternative test) when performed in the emergency department since it is more expensive.  Therefore, the CT scan is used.

A percentage of doctors are becoming concerned about these risks.  American Imaging Management (AIM) has developed a Patient Safety Program.  I received this information through Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield as a result of their Patient Safety Panel that was convened in 2010.

AIM has a website at www.AmericanImaging.net/safety that tells you how many chest
x-rays each CT scan equals.  It then gives you alternative tests that may provide as good or better information to your doctor.   For example a head MRI should be recommended before CT scan in many cases.  An MRI uses magnetism and not radiation and does not have negative side effects.  However, people with pacemakers, defibrillators and
intracranial aneurysm surgical clips cannot have MRI’s.  Worth noting, if new bleeding is suspected in your brain or you have had head trauma, a CT scan is the better test.

The AIM website also allows you to keep track of your radiation dose accumulation.  This can tell you when you have exceeded certain thresholds of allowed radiation and help your doctor choose different testing at that time.

CT scans are an excellent imagining tool when used wisely.  Ask your doctor about your risks and benefits and whether there is a safer choice.

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