Unnecessary Overuse Of CT Scans May Be Causing Cancer In Patients
A 2015 publication released by JAMA found that over 80 million computed tomography scans are performed per year in the United States.
This is undoubtedly a surprising volume of CT scans, but what makes the statistic alarming is that researchers also estimate that 29,000 cancer diagnoses and 15,000 deaths will come as a direct result of overexposure to CT scans.
Despite an increased awareness of the health dangers of unnecessary advanced imaging procedures, the number of instances has yet to see a decline. In exploring the most overused types of diagnostic imaging and the injuries they are commonly used to diagnose, researchers hope that the inappropriate usage will decrease in the coming years.
Upper & Lower Respiratory Infections
URI’s effect millions of people each year, and with major health authorities such as the CDC outlining diagnostic tips and treatments, it is surprising how often a CT scan is used as an investigative measure. The ACEP found that in 2001 0.5 percent of ER patients coded as URI in the ER received a CT scan, while by 2010 the rate jumped to 3.6 percent. When looking into lower respiratory tract diagnosis, the number jumped from 3.1 percent to 12.1 percent within the same time period. Making the increase more questionable is the fact that although four times as many CT scans were performed, there was no increase in antibiotics being prescribed.
Cervical Spine Injury
One group of researchers found that after reviewing 760 nursing home patients charts after a fall, only seven had any kind of fracture. In total, only 50% of those charts gave sufficient information to warrant the initial CT scan. The team based their findings off of the guidelines set forth by the National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization Study (NEXUS) low-risk criteria. Financially, the United States could save up to $31 billion per year by reducing unnecessary imaging costs.
It is important to remember that CT scans do allow early diagnosis in the detection of many diseases, and the precision is nearly unmatched. That being said patient awareness regarding the dangers of radiation overexposure is crucial, as Consumer Reports found that only 4% of 1,019 surveyed adults had ever opted not to receive a CT scan. If more patients were aware that cancers from radiation exposure can take between 5 and 60 years to develop, more might request alternative diagnostic measures first. Doctors opting to follow recommendations to avoid “low-value” imaging as outlined by the ACEP would offer an improved health outlook as well as increased financial resources to research lower risk imaging methods.