Are We Overusing CT Scans?

80 million scans every year

CT scans give medical professionals detailed pictures of the inner workings of your body but can also expose you to high doses of radiation.

More than 80 million CT scans are performed in the U.S. every year. But about a third of those scans serve no medical purpose, according to research published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

And Consumer Reports’ medical advisor says that the misuse of CT scans can lead to serious consequences.

It’s estimated that CT scans may be responsible for at least 2 percent of future cancers in the U.S., resulting in 15,000 deaths per year.

So it’s clearly critical to avoid unnecessary CT scans. Just one CT scan can expose you to as much radiation as 200 chest X-rays.

But according to a recent Consumer Reports survey, only 15 percent were warned by a doctor of the radiation risks of medical imaging.

One factor in the overuse of CT scans is doctors who own their own CT equipment. Consumer Reports says that they have a tendency to order more CT scans than doctors who don’t.

Consumer Reports advises that patients should always ask why a CT scan is necessary and whether some other test such as ultrasound or an MRI, which don’t emit radiation, could be just as effective.

If a CT scan is the right choice, keep in mind that less radiation is needed if you are small and thin, so ask the radiologist to check the dose. Once you get a CT scan, be sure to get a copy of it so that you don’t undergo repeat, unnecessary testing when you go to a new doctor or specialist.

Consumer Reports also says to avoid “whole body” scans that are often touted as a way to detect cancer early. They expose you to more radiation than regular CT scans and often lead to unnecessary follow-up tests.

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