CT Scan Use is Rising, Increasing Radiation Risk: Study

The use of CT scans and other imaging techniques has tripled over the last 15 years, increasing the risk of potentially serious radiation exposure side effects, such as cancer, according to the findings of new research. 

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), U.S. researchers examined the use of scanning tests since 1996 and found that the rate of use has grown nearly 8 percent every year.

Three times as many Americans get a CT scan now than they did in 2010, the researchers found. CT scans and X-rays involve radiation exposure, while scans like ultrasounds and MRIs do not.

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The findings raise serious concerns about the amount of radiation exposure American patients are receiving. Some experts indicate that while such scans are vital in some fields, and save lives, they are often unnecessary in many situations.

The researchers found that in 1996, about 52 out of every 1,000 American adults received a CT scan every year. By 2010, that number had risen to 149 out of 1,000. The number of patients getting an MRI annually went from 17 per 1,000 to 65, over the same time period. The one rate that dropped was the use of nuclear medicine, which decreased from 32 to 21 out of 1,000 between 1996 and 2010.

According to the findings, the increase in CT scan use doubled the mean per capita effective dose of radiation and greatly increased the number of adults who received an amount of radiation considered high or very high in one year.

Last month, the FDA issued new guidance on how to protect children from excessive radiation exposure. The agency wants manufacturers to prove that their X-ray imaging devices are safe and effective for use on children before allowing them onto the market, and has proposed to label any devices that fail to provide such proof as potentially hazardous for children. The guidance is in draft form and is awaiting finalization.

In November 2010, the FDA recommended that the radiation therapy industry make changes to equipment and training to lessen the risk of radiation overdose for patients. The recommendations came after a year-long investigation by the FDA, which concluded that nearly all radiation exposure problems suffered by patients are due to operator error and are rarely contributed to by broken CT scanners.

CT scan procedures and other forms of radiation therapy across the country came under close scrutiny prior to the FDA recommendations after it was widely publicized that a number of patients have suffered radiation overexposure from CT Scans performed incorrectly.

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