Physicians Urged To Ease Off On Medical Radiation Use

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“Let’s get an x-ray of that.” Millions of patients have gone under the beam to help their physician diagnose an illness or injury. But most of the time these days, the doctor isn’t ordering a plain old x-ray, but a more sophisticated and accurate CT scan. Accuracy comes with a price. A single CT scan exposes the patient to a dose of radiation 100 to 500 times greater than a regular x-ray. Medical radiation can cure but it also can kill. Radiation damages DNA and, a decade or two down the road, damaged cells become cancerous. Experts say 15 percent of all cancers in the United States are caused by radiation exposure. Indiscriminate and negligent use of medical radiation is a serious health risk.

A University of California-San Francisco radiology and biomedical imaging specialist says, “all imaging has increased, but CT’s account for the bulk of it…there’s clearly widespread overuse.” What’s more, some doctors are using CT scans for tests that have not been scientifically validated. CT scans of coronary arteries to detect calcium buildup are widely used but they have never clinically tested and there’s no proof of any benefit to the patient. But there is proof that the test delivers a radiation dose 600 times larger than a normal chest x-ray, and it is estimated that one person out of every 1,000 cardiac CT scans develops cancer that otherwise would not have occurred.

It’s not all the doctor’s fault. Patients share some responsibility for not questioning the need or the cost of the tests. Patients feel they are getting cutting-edge care and, as far as the cost goes, that’s the insurance company’s problem. Compounding the problem, there are too many CT scanners and not enough patients with conditions that require their use. Doctors and hospitals seeking to recover the $3 million-plus cost of the machine want it used; a lot. The need to pay off the capital investment seems to trump medical prudence on a regular basis.

California passed a law in July requiring physicians to chart a patient’s radiation dose after each scan. Inadvertent radiation overdoses must be reported to the state immediately. Unfortunately, there is no nationwide system for tracking the effects of cumulative medical radiation exposure and the cancers that may result. Patients who have undergone CT scans or other radiation treatment and later develop cancer need to find out if medical malpractice or negligence is responsible for their disease. Skilled medical malpractice attorneys have expert teams that can examine patient records and determine if this cancer could have been avoided.

Source: The New York Times, “Medical radiation soars, with risks often overlooked,” Jane E. Brody, Aug. 20, 2012

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