Patients underestimate CT scan radiation: survey

Thu Jan 6, 2011 1:12am EST
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Will getting two or three CT scans of the abdomen expose a person to the same amount of radiation as people who lived not far from the epicenter of the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bombing and survived?

Will they increase a person's lifetime cancer risk?

If you answered yes to both questions, you're right -- and also more informed than many patients at U.S. inner-city emergency departments, according to a survey by Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey.

Researchers there asked more than 1,100 patients to rate statements similar to the above questions. Half said they had very little faith in the comparison between Hiroshima survivors and patients who had CT scans, rating their agreement at 13 on a scale from 0 to a perfect 100.

The majority also tended to disagree that the scans would increase their cancer risk, while three-quarters underestimated the x-ray radiation from a CT scan compared with traditional chest x-rays, which are at least 100 times weaker.

"The point of the paper was not to create mass hysteria," said Brigitte Baumann, an emergency physician at Cooper, whose findings appeared online in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

"The concern is patients who keep coming back to their physicians and get a lot of scans," she told Reuters Health.

The number of Americans having computed tomography scans has soared in recent decades to 72 million in 2007, leading some doctors to worry that they may be overused.

"We have people who have gotten as many as 57 scans. That is a huge number," Baumann said, noting that checks of the medical records of their patients by her and her colleagues found that half had gotten scans at the hospital in the previous five years.   Continued...