Post updated March 17, 2011
Computed tomography, also known as a CT or CAT scan, is one of the most common forms of diagnostic imaging. The scans are used to diagnose or monitor a wide range of medical illnesses including cancer and many heart conditions. It is not uncommon that cancer survivors get CT scans on a regular basis to check for signs of a recurrence. But the scans themselves expose the patient to levels of radiation which have become a source of concern to researchers over the past several years. Specifically, radiation exposure from CT scans has been linked to an increased risk of cancer. WCCO-TV medical reporter Dennis Douda announced yesterday that the Mayo Clinic is now using a new CT scanner that reduces the patient’s exposure to radiation, therefore decreasing the patient’s risk of cancer. Douda interviewed cardiac radiologist Eric Williamson who demonstrated the use of the Seimens Somatom Definition Flash dual-source CT scanner. As Williamson displayed an image retrieved from the scanner he said, “one of the most important things to realize about this image is that it was acquired with about one-tenth the dose of a conventional cardiac CT.”
A CT scan uses a series of images taken in a short period of time to create a picture of a particular part of the body. The imaging is considered to be more sophisticated than a typical x-ray. But since 1980, the average American’s radiation exposure has nearly doubled raising concern over it’s impact on a patient’s cancer risk. It is important to note however that currently no instances of cancer in a person have ever been linked directly to CT scans.
Experts agree that, regardless of risk, there are important benefits to the use of CT scans including the fact that the scans helps detect tumors, guide a biopsy, determine the stage of cancer and whether cancer has spread, and monitor the effectiveness of cancer treatment. In an article which reviews the risks and benefits of CT scans, CancerNet.com reminds readers that “a person diagnosed with cancer or suspected of having cancer can safely receive a CT scan because the benefits always outweigh the risks.” The site offers useful information about CT scans including a list of questions to ask your physician when a CT scan is recommended.
Questions to ask when a CT scan is recommended
* Why do I need a CT scan? (Why does my child need a CT scan?)
* Are there risks of having a CT scan?
* What are the risks of not having the test?
* Is a CT scan the best diagnostic examination for me (my child)? Or are there others we can substitute?
* Is the radiation dose of the CT scan the lowest possible dose that produces diagnostic images?
* Is the radiation dose based on my (my child’s) weight?
* Does the benefit of a CT scan outweigh its risks?
* Does this CT scan duplicate any previous tests?
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