When I wrote to you last year about the dangerous practice of overusing CT scans, I referred to them as “the innocent little test that could kill you.”
Some may think that sounds just a bit dramatic. But, unfortunately, I can assure you it’s not.
Sure, I’ll admit that CT scans do seem harmless. After all, since they’re so routinely ordered by doctors these days, they must be safe right?
That misconception is exactly where the problem lies.
Yearly CT scans have skyrocketed nearly 2300%!
It’s estimated that in 1980 about 3 million CT scans were being performed each year. Today, that number has skyrocketed to 72 million. The scans are now so common that few people… doctors included… recognize just how much of a threat the cumulative radiation exposure from them actually is to our health.
This lack of understanding explains why most people are shocked when I tell them that, according to the National Cancer Institute, CT scans are likely the cause of 29,000 excess cancers per year. And they’re even more stunned when I reveal that 15,000 of those cases may be fatal.
Suddenly, CT scans don’t seen quite so innocent anymore do they?
That’s why I practically had steam coming out of my ears when I read a recent Washington Post article exposing the fact that hundreds of hospitals nationwide are routinely using a procedure known as a double CT scan, which is… as the name suggests… doubling up on the radiation exposure that their patients are receiving.
According to experts, the double CT scan—which involves back-to-back scanning, one without dye in the veins and then one with—should be used only in rare cases.
People are being zapped with a double dose of deadly radiation
Yet somehow in 2008 alone 5.4 percent of Medicare patients who were referred by their doctor for a chest CT nationwide were given one. That amounts to 76,781 people being zapped by an unnecessary double dose of radiation!
Is that steam I’m seeing coming out of YOUR ears now? Wait…there’s more.
For 618 hospitals, the double-CT-scan figure ballooned to 10%…and a staggering 94 of them performed double scans on at least 50% of their chest-scan patients. And don’t forget that, as shocking as these numbers already may seem, they don’t even include people on private insurances or Medicaid.
The fact is that experts agree that double scanning is both unnecessary and outdated in the vast majority of cases. Modern imaging techniques ensure that almost all chest problems can be diagnosed with a single scan so the double CT scan is, in effect, accomplishing nothing except exposing patients to significantly more cancer-causing radiation.
When it comes to CT scans, you need to become your own advocate. Keep track of the number and kinds of scans you have. And when a scan is ordered, be sure to ask why and ask if there are other options that will expose you to less radiation.
Actually, what we need to ask ourselves is this: Are these scan-happy docs just hopelessly incompetent and behind the times or, since both Medicare and private insurers pay more for double scans, are they simply trying to generate more income?
I’ll let you be the judge of which one is the case. Personally, I’m appalled by either scenario.
“Many hospitals overuse double CT scans, data show,” Julie Appleby and Jordan Rau, The Washington Post, Published: June 18, 2011
“Projected cancer risks from computed tomographic scans performed in the United States in 2007,” Arch Intern Med. 2009 Dec 14;169(22):2071-7.
“Radiation dose associated with common computed tomography examinations and the associated lifetime attributable risk of cancer,” Arch Intern Med. 2009 Dec 14;169(22):2078-86.
“Hospital Compare,” US Department of Health and Human Services, HHS.gov
“What is Medical Imaging?” Hospital Compare, US Department of Health and Human Services, HHS.gov
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