August 28, 2009

Is Medical Imaging Worth the Cancer Risk?

From CT scans to nuclear stress tests, America is receiving skyrocketing rates of radiation through medical imaging. Experts say research is necessary to determine whether the benefits outweigh the known cancer risks of radiation.

In a study including about 1 million adults between 18 and 64, nearly 70 percent experienced medical imaging between July 2005 and December 2007, doubling the average expected dose of radiation exposed naturally. The number of CT scans given has quadrupled since 1992, a procedure responsible for as many as 2 percent of all cancers. Researchers are calling for evidence that the benefits of cardiovascular imaging tests used for diagnostic purposes outweigh the potential risks of radiation.

Although the radiation transmitted from a single test is minimal, it's cumulative exposure from tests that experts worry about. Women and older individuals are at greatest risk for radiation exposure. Clinicians ought to "think and talk explicitly about the elements of danger in exposing our patients to radiation," Michael S. Lauer, M.D., director of the Divisions of Prevention and Population Sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, was quoted as saying. Dr. Lauer suggests doctors analyze patients individually, forewarning them of the potential risks of cumulative radiation.

SOURCE: New England Journal of Medicine, August 27, 2009