Protecting Patients from Radiation: Overuse of CT Scanners Raises Radiation Concerns

Though CT scanners give doctors detailed glimpses into the bodies of patients, there are increasing concerns that physicians are overly reliant on the imaging devices and the dangerous radiation they emit.

The debate over how to best protect patients was highlighted in a recent edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. On one side of the issue are those who say it's time for the Food and Drug Administration to more tightly regulate the use of CT scans (also known as CAT scans and computed tomography).

On the opposite side of the issue are those who say doctors should decrease reliance on CT scans on their own; government regulation might hamper the sorts of technological research that led to development of the CT scanners.

Pricey and Potentially Dangerous

Caught in the middle of the ongoing debate are the patients who want quality, affordable health care and are in many cases being subjected to overuse of expensive, potentially dangerous CT scans.

A CT chest scan exposes a person to more than 100 times the radiation of a traditional X-ray. It would take approximately 400 chest X-rays to equal the radiation emitted by a single abdominal CT scan.

A 2009 report by The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement stated that Americans are exposed to seven times more radiation from diagnostic scans such as CT scans and X-rays than they were 30 years ago.

CT Scans Linked to Cancer

The Journal of the American Medical Association estimated that CT scan use has more than tripled since 1993, with more than 70 million scans performed annually. Researchers estimate that up to three percent of all cancers in the U.S. are due to CT scanner use (more than 1.4 million cases of cancer are diagnosed annually).

Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman, of the University of California San Francisco, wrote one of the Journal of Medicine commentaries urging increased FDA regulation. "Radiation doses are higher than they should be and they vary dramatically within and between facilities and that is not acceptable," Smith-Bindman told Thomson Reuters.

She said part of the problem with CT scans is that there's no standard for how much radiation is appropriate for the devices to emit. That means two patients with identical medical problems getting CT scans in different locations are often subjected to widely varying amounts of radiation.

Taking Control of Damage Done

If you or a member of your family has been injured by negligent overuse of CT scans, radiological misdiagnosis or other medical procedures or devices, contact a Rhode Island medical malpractice attorney who will assess the facts of the case. A medical malpractice lawyer knows both the law and the medical experts who can determine if negligence by a doctor or hospital caused an illness or injury.