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Radiation From CT Scans May Cause Cancer Risk

Research findings reveal that Americans who are overexposed to radiation from diagnostic tests, especially from a specialized kind of X-ray called a computed tomography, or CT, scan have an increased liability for incurring cancer.

According to the American Association for Critical Illness Insurance, about 70 million CT scans were done on Americans in 2007, up from 3 million in 1980.  A chest CT scan exposes the patient to more than 100 times the radiation dose of a chest X-ray.

Medical researchers at the National Cancer Institute developed a computer model to estimate the impact of scans.  They estimated the scans done in 2007 will cause 29,000 cancers. A third of the projected cancers will occur in people who were ages 35 to 54 when they got their CT, two-thirds will occur in women and 15 percent will arise from scans done in children or teens. 

The researchers estimated there will be an extra 2,000 excess breast cancers just from CT scans done in 2007.  They found radiation dosage varied widely between different types of CT studies, from a median or midpoint of 2 millisieverts for a routine head CT scan to 31 millisieverts for a scan of the abdomen and pelvis, which often involves taking multiple images of the same organ. 

By comparison, the average American is exposed to about 3 millisieverts of radiation a year from ground radon or flying in an airplane — a level not considered a risk to health.

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