The health conditions CT scans can uncover pose far greater risks than the radiation from the tests themselves, particularly in young people, a new analysis has found.
The Harvard Medical School study, published in the journal Radiology, determined that the dangers young adults face from cancer, trauma, and abdominal pain causes — the chief reasons patients undergo computed tomography (CT) exams — are much higher than the risks of developing radiation-induced cancer from such scans.
"The impetus for our study was the concern that the lay press often focuses on potential harm caused to patients by CT imaging," said researcher Susanna Lee, M.D., chief of women's imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "Lacking in this discussion is a sense of how sick these patients already are."
The use of CTs has grown about 10 percent annually over the last 15 years in the U.S., raising concerns about radiation-induced cancers. To compare the risks and benefits of CT in young adults, Dr. Lee and colleagues analyzed health records of 22,000 patients 18 to 35 years old who underwent chest or abdominopelvic CT exams between 2003 and 2007 in Boston.
During the five years of the study, 7.1 percent of the patients who underwent chest CT scans and 3.9 percent of those who had abdominopelvic CTs died. That was far more far more than the 0.1 percent long-term risk of death from radiation-induced cancer predicted by statistical models in both groups, the researchers reported.
"It was a bit surprising to see how high the five-year mortality rate was in this group," Dr. Lee said. "To put it in context, the average young adult has only a 1 percent chance of dying in the next five years.
"We're not saying be complacent about the radiation risk from CT. But these people being imaged might have been in a motor vehicle accident, or have a perforated appendix or life-threatening cancer, and we're trying to gain information from scans that can help them. That's the part that gets lost in the debate."
© 2023 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.