An article in the New York Times struck home with me today. It has to do with excess radiation exposure from CT scans, X-rays and other ionizing radiation from medical tests.
Many patients think more is better when it comes to diagnostic testing. They request scans for headaches, backaches, new knee pain and screening total body scans "just to make sure I'm ok". Despite warnings that body scans often pick up slight abnormalities that are not significant but need to be followed up on with biopsies and more invasive tests, many patients believe it is worth it if the test can find that 1/10,000 early cancer.
According to a new study, the dose of ionizing radiation from clinical imaging exams in the U.S. increased almost 600% from 1980 to 2006. CT scans,nuclear medicine exams and cardiac studies deliver the most radiation. X-rays have been classified as carcinogens by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and excess exposure causes leukemia, thyroid, breast and lung cancer.
The American College of Radiology says mammograms deliver only 0.7mSv radiation and a bone density scan is only 0.01mSv. Compare that to a single CT scan that can expose a patient to 10mSv. The new multislice scanners deliver even more radiation.
We are blessed to live in an age with technology that can help us diagnose illness, treat disease and extend our lives far beyond our grandparents. But new technology comes with a cost, both in health care dollars and in exposure to radiation. The smart patient will ask "Is this test necessary?" The smart patient will avoid total body scans unless it is for a specific diagnostic question.