More Controls Required To Prevent CT Scan Radiation Damage


Here is some bad news for those undergoing CT scans. According to an article published by imaging professionals in a top medical journal, people undergoing CT scans are faced with numerous health hazards ranging from risks of developing cancer in the long term to the consequences of accidental radiation overdose. They write that as the people in the United States are being exposed to more health risks owing to CT scans, there is an urgent requirement for additional controls while using CT scans to ensure the safety of the patients. In fact, the articles were published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine in the wake of a report in The Associated Press elaborating on the excessive use of imaging examinations as well as the extent to which radiation dosages have increased among the Americans in recent times.

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It may be mentioned here that CT scans are basically exceptionally distinct X-rays that have helped to revolutionize the medical sector as it enables the physicians to promptly diagnose or discard diseases or injuries. Earlier, they were unable to act that fast as the X-rays did not provide precise imaging. On the contrary, CT scans resulted in high risks of developing cancer over a period of time.

Presently, the US Congress as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are contemplating to implement new steps to help preventing medical anomalies, especially in somewhat exceptional cases wherein the physicians mistakenly administer excessive radiation doses to some patients. Nevertheless, the fact remains that many more people are actually confronted with the probable enduring damages done by the common imaging tests even when they are conducted properly but may be used too often, repeated or may be just not needed.

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According to available statistics, approximately 10 per cent of the people in the United States receive a CT scan every year and the use of such imaging tests are increasing by the day. In fact, incidents of using CT scans are increasing by around 10 per cent every year!

Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman, one of the authors of the articles published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, this is one precise area where they need to concentrate on. A radiologist at the University of California in San Francisco, Dr. Smith-Bindman is presently on a provisional leave to undertake a research on radiation and related issues at the National Cancer Institute.

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It is important to note that though the Food and Drug Administration is the regulatory authority regarding the scanning equipment, but does not have any say, whatsoever, on how the physicians are ought to use them or the precise occasions when it is appropriate to conduct the imaging tests. What is even worse is the fact that till date there is no federal benchmark specifying the precise radiation that needs to be used during a CT scan. Interestingly enough, a study led by a team of researchers headed by Dr. Smith-Bindman discovered that patients at four different hospitals in California receiving the same type of scan actually took a 13-fold alteration in the radiation doses.

Referring to the findings of the study, Dr. Smith-Bindman says that the radiation doses given were not only in excessive quantity, but also varied from one patient to another. Unfortunately, people were yet to realize this threat, she said, adding, it is high time that the authorities initiated measures to make imaging tests safer for the people. According to her, the industry's endeavour to restrain the excessive use of imaging tests as well as doses and emphasize on radiation doses that will have lesser side effects have proved to be of little use thus far.

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Meanwhile, expressing his views on the subject, Dr. John Patti, a radiologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital who also heads the board of chancellors at the American College of Radiology, said that the initiatives to curb the overuse of imaging tests and radiation overdose need to be a voluntary action.

Similarly, two scientists having leadership positions in the research team and also having wide-ranging relations with the industry as well as the health insurers wrote another article in the New England Journal of Medicine emphasizing that physicians need to be more careful while using the ultra-modern imaging equipment to avoid unnecessary health hazards to the patients. According to Dr Bruce J. Hillman, a professor at the University of Virginia, and Jeff Goldsmith, president of a Charlottesville, Virginia-based health information policy and analysis firm Health Futures Inc., the major problem vis-à-vis the excessive use of imaging tests are the patients who force physicians for such examination even if they may not require them for their medical conditions. They further wrote in their article that often the fright of being taken to court also results in excessive imaging tests. The two scientists assert that such unprofessional conducts cannot be avoided unless the authorities impose strict curbs on such activities.

Criticizing the role of a section of medical practitioners, Dr. Hillman and Goldsmith state that while the Medicare ethics prohibits the physicians from having any kind of profitable stake in the care they prescribe for their patients, in reality there is an ambiguity that enables them to undertake such examinations on equipment in their individual offices. In fact, there are a number of doctors who dodge the rules by recommending their patients to have the tests at some other place, which are actually owned by them, the two scientists wrote in their recently published article published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Expressing her views on the issue, Dr. Smith-Bindman said that the US Congress may perhaps empower the Food and Drug Administration to determine the exact radiation doses for CT scans in the same manner in which it has enabled the organization to implement restrictions in the case of mammograms. At the same time, she suggested that groups that keep track of the quality control evaluations on behalf of the US federal government also ought to incorporate the issue of bringing down the radiation dose of CT scans into their existing standards on other matters. Citing examples, Dr. Smith-Bindman pointed out that many nations in Europe have implemented measures to curb overdose of radiation as well as unnecessary use of imaging tests over a decade back and they have proved to be effective. The doses of radiation in CT scans have really dropped in those countries, she concluded.


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