More than 70 million computerized tomography (CT) scans are performed in the U.S. each year. These scans can be a valuable imaging procedure when used correctly.
But healthcare providers are relying on them too much.
Of even more concern is the fact that CT scans expose the body to a large amount of ionizing radiation — the kind that can damage cells’ DNA. One CT scan emits the same amount of radiation as 100 to 150 chest X-rays.
A 2016 study in the Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences assessed the knowledge of dosing levels and risk among physicians, imaging technologists, and radiologists to identify potential differences between and within these groups.
Nearly 30 percent of physicians who order CT scans were unaware that there is an increased risk of cancer from just one abdominal-pelvic scan.
And more than 80 percent of physicians — including more than 70 percent of radiologists — were unable to identify the ionizing radiation dose of chest X-rays.
The lead investigator of the study wrote, “Underestimating radiation dose from a CT scan is more concerning than knowing the exact dose level . . . as this may lead to minimization of the risk estimate when considering a test.”
This study also found a lack of knowledge about the radiation emitted by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound.
MRIs and ultrasound do not use ionizing radiation; therefore, they are much safer than CT scans. Yet 20 percent of physicians thought there was radiation exposure from MRIs, and 11 percent of doctors thought ultrasound exposed patients to radiation.
This study is unsettling. Doctors ordering imaging tests should be aware if that test exposes the patient to dangerous ionizing radiation. Lacking such understanding of the risks of a drug or a procedure can result in overusing that item.
As a physician, I am responsible for the drugs I prescribe as well as the tests I order for patients.
This study is another example of why it’s important to take your healthcare decisions into your own hands.
You can’t rely on everything a doctor says. Educate yourself about every drug you are prescribed and every test that is ordered.
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