CT Scan Radiation Causing Cancer

In October, we alerted readers that the FDA became aware of numerous radiation overexposures during CT scans at a particular facility, with patients receiving radiation doses that were approximately eight times the expected level. The article noted that this situation may reflect more widespread problems with CT quality assurance programs and may not be isolated to this particular facility – putting patients at increased risk for long-term radiation effects.

Last week, we posted an article that the FDA had identified at least 50 additional patients who were exposed to excess radiation of up to eight times the expected level during their CT scans and that these cases involve more than one manufacturer of CT scanners. Some of these patients reported hair loss or skin redness following their scans.

Now, over the past week, two new studies have been published that indicate the risk of cancer associated with common CT scans is much greater than previously thought – even when the scans are working appropriately. According to the Archives of Internal Medicine, a bi-weekly medical journal published by the American Medical Association, while CT scans have undoubtedly escalated the ease and accuracy of internal medicine diagnosis, the levels of radiation exposure could actually be deadly to many patients.

CT scans carry a wide range of radiation, depending on their diagnostic purpose. According to numerous news reports, in a single procedure, a patient can receive the equivalent of 100 to 440 times the radiation in a conventional X-ray. Dr. Rita Redberg’s article in the Archives of Internal Medicine relates that a single coronary angiogram, on average, delivers the equivalent of 309 chest radiographs. This is essentially four times the amount of radiation estimated in earlier studies. The data found by scientists estimates that the risk for developing cancer from the procedure, taking into consideration age, sex, and study type, was one in every 270 forty-year-old women and one in 600 for men. While the risk may be small for any single patient, because 70 million CT scans are given every year in the United States, these scans would cause an estimated 29,000 additional cases of cancer, and 15,000 additional cancer-related deaths.

That is why it is so important that CT scans are not administered unless the alleged benefits of the scans clearly outweigh the risks. The LA Times(12/15) reports that many of these scans are often unnecessary procedures. “Whole body scans of healthy patients are becoming very common, although they rarely find anything wrong…many emergency rooms send patients to the CT scanner before they ever see a doctor.” Dr. Rita Redberg confirms this claim, stating that “a pilot study found that only 66% of nuclear scans were appropriate, using American College of Cardiology criteria-the remainder were inappropriate or uncertain.”

Bloomberg News (12/15) states that the National Cancer Institute has completed a study predicting lung cancer to be the most common radiation-related cancer. It believes colon cancer and leukemia will follow close behind. The Wall Street Journal reports that one study analyzed data from several databases and that the greatest cancer risk is for young patients. It states that a female who received an abdominal scan at age 3 had a one in 500 chance of developing cancer from it’s radiation. The figure drops to one in 1,000 by age 30, and one in 3, 333 at age 70.

Also reported in Bloomberg News, though patients can do little about the doses of radiation they receive during a CT scan, Dr. Rosaleen Parsons, chair of the department of diagnostic imaging at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, says that they should be their own advocates. She encourages patients to keep records of the number of scans they have received, and discuss other types of imaging with their doctors, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to minimize radiation exposure.

If you feel that you have been unnecessarily exposed to high doses of radiation as the result of CT scans, contact the law firm of Pogust, Braslow, & Millrood, LLC.