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You heard it here first: CT scans and cancer risk.

Loyal readers of The Women's Health Activist weren't surprised when the television news shows and daily newspapers covered the "news" that Computed Tomography (CT) scans increased the risk of cancer. Sparked by a review article published in the New England Journal of Medicine on November 29, the media covered the story with headlines such as: "CT scans raise cancer risk", "Rise in CT scans poses cancer risk", and "Cancer tied to needless CT scans".

While we're delighted that the broader public now knows that CT scans increase the risk of cancer, we're also proud that we were able to inform our readers of this risk more than a year earlier. In July 2006, Adriane Fugh-Berman's column, "Getting Burned: Radiation Exposure from CT Scans", warned that CT scans exposed patients to high levels of radiation. Adriane advised NWHN readers not to use CT scans for screening, and to explore other options for diagnosis, when possible. Here's a recap of the issue:

* CT scans use doses of radiation that have been associated with increased risks of cancer in both adults and children.

* CT scans for diagnosis are often much more helpful than they are harmful, as they allow physicians to quickly diagnose and treat a threatening condition. Physicians and radiologists estimate, however, that at least one-third of diagnostic CT scans are done needlessly--either "just in case" or because earlier results aren't present in patients' records.

* CT scans of healthy, symptom-free adults to screen for disease have never been shown to save lives. Nor have they been shown to accurately detect early signs of treatable conditions without falsely showing signs of disease where none exists. Savvy consumers should avoid CT screening, especially "whole body" screens. (The National Cancer Institute is currently studying CT screening for lung cancer.)

* CT scans are estimated to cause as many as two percent of all cancers.

For more information, see: Brenner D and E J Hall, "Computed Tomography--An Increasing Source of Radiation Exposure," NEJM 2007; 357(22): 2277-2284; Fugh-Berman A, "Getting Burned: Radiation Exposure from CT Scans," The Women's Health Activist, July/August 2007, page 11; and The X-rays and Health Project website at
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Publication:Women's Health Activist
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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