Do CT scans cause cancer?
Is it possible that Computer Tomography, (CT) scans, actually give you cancer while looking for it? According to a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine by University of California-San Francisco professor and radiologist Rebecca-Smith Bindman, patients who have a CT scan actually increase their chances of developing cancer in their life.
During a CT scan a patient may absorb the radiation equivalent of 442 chest X-rays or 74 mammograms (which are the equivalent of 6 chest x-rays).
In the study, it was estimated that for 40 year old women who have a CT scan on their heart, there is a one in 270 chance of developing cancer from that scan. If she were to have that scan at age 20, then the risks are doubled, and if the scan occurs ate age 60, the risks are halved.
The radiation absorbed from CT scans varies enormously depending on the area of the body being scanned, and the cancer causing affects vary with age and sex of the patient. For men it appears the likely increased cancer risk is about half that of women.
The radiation absorbed from a CT scan can also vary from hospital to hospital, and even from operator to operator, as there is little standardisation of CT usage.
Of course this study deals with estimates and not with actual case studies, largely because there have been no long term case studies, so there is room for error, though projections of radiation absorption were generally at the lower end of the scale. And also CT scans do have the ability to save lives, although their convenience of use means that they are often over used as a means of diagnosis, possibly as a result of doctors' fear of mis- or under-diagnosis and resultant legal problems.
According to an article published Mary 7, 2010, the recent report from the [US] President's Cancer Panel says that those who get a chest CT scan receive as much radiation as Japanese Hiroshama survivors received 1/2 mile from ground zero.
So, what should you do when your doctor suggests a scan?
Ask him/her what your options are and whether the scan is simply to confirm a diagnosis, an overkill, or is it a vital tool to ascertain exactly what a problem is? Be aware that he os she may not be aware of studies like this, so let them know, send them the link to the study so they can see it is not just some doctor/technology hating hippie making unsubstantiated claims. Then make your own decision.
Adapted from 5 Ways Techno-Gadgetry Is Bringing Out the Worst in Humanity by Scott Thill, 2/2/10
By Mark O'Brien