Study Suggests CT Scan May Up Risk for Cancer, Experts Say Benefits Outweigh Risks

November 30, 2007 - Posted at 2:45 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, AR -- A new study from the New England Journal of Medicine reports that the popular computed tomography or CT scanning machines may be upping your chances for cancer, with the highest risk to children.  But medical experts say this should not deter people who need the scans from getting them.

"They are safe," reassured Dr. Mark Newman, radiologist for St. Bernards Imaging Center.

"It probably can induce cancer but this is if you want to stand out there 20-30 hours in the radiation, that with a normal population when you come in and you are just doing routine diagnostic work ups and I think it's just totally overly blown out of proportion," said radiologic tech Melissa Haggard.

Radiology experts in Region 8 agree, the benefits of the CT scan outweigh the risk involved.

"The CT scans provide a lot of useful information that you can't get any other way," said Dr. Newman.

CT imaging is used to diagnose a wide variety of diseases...everything from hemorrhages in the brain to lung cancer to appendicitis. During the procedure x-ray machines rotate around a section of the body, taking cross-sectional pictures that computers assemble into a 3-D image.

Although the image is a big improvement over conventional x-rays, the radiatio ndose that the patient receives is also much higher.

While one in four Americans will develop cancer in their lifetime...the study estimates CT scans could cause as much as 2% of all cancers in the United States in the next 20 to 30 years.

"The problem gets to be when you talk about screening and you have a lot of a symptomatic people who receive a lot of scans, we'll it's additive," said Dr. Newman, "It's accumulative so the radiation you had when you were 45 you still have when you are 75."

But medical professionals say if you need the tests, get it.

"Don't blow it off and say I don't want a CT scan because I think I am going to get cancer, I don't think that is going to happen either," said Haggard, "Always do what you need to with what your doctor recommends, but you are the governor of you own body. If you think you need to go, then go."

The number of CT scans performed in the U.S. today has increased from 3 million in 1980 to more than 68 million today.