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Understanding The Potential Dangers Of CT Scanning
Posted By Dr. Ben Kim
A report issued on Tuesday, December 5, 2006 by Ontario's auditor general indicates that children in Ontario are often exposed to unnecessary amounts of ionizing radiation when they get a CT scan, also known as a CAT scan.
The auditor general said that in nearly half of the cases that he looked at, hospitals did not decrease the exposure setting when children were given CT scans.
With all forms of ionizing radiation, the amount of radiation needed to produce a clear image is directly proportional to the subject's body size. Children require much less ionizing radiation than adults do when they get X-rays and CT scans. A child who receives a CT scan for his or her abdominal region using a setting that is meant for adults ends up being exposed to as much radiation as is used in about 4,000 X-rays. Given the fact that children's cells are more sensitive to ionizing radiation than adult cells are, this translates to approximately eight times the amount of ionizing radiation that an adult would be exposed to for a similar procedure.
Here are some other troubling findings from the auditor general's report:
- Hospitals in Ontario are not keeping track of the total number of CT scans that adults and children are receiving, nor are they monitoring the total dosage of ionizing radiation that each adult and child are exposed to.
- Approximately 10 to 20 percent of CT scans are performed without a clear need for them.
- Amazingly, some of the physicians and other hospital staff members who the auditor general visited were not even aware that CT scans expose their patients to much more radiation than regular, plain film X-rays do.
- Some radiologists do not even wear a dosimeter, which is a device that measures how much ionizing radiation the person wearing the device is exposed to over time. Not wearing one is an indication that the potential dangers of being exposed to ionizing radiation are not being given proper consideration.
The auditor general included the following statement in his report:
"There is a lot of research out there that increased exposure to radiation, over time, can cause radiation-induced cancers."
CT scans, X-rays, and all other forms of ionizing radiation should be used only when information that can be obtained from them will alter the course of a person's health care. When they are used, one should not be shy about asking the radiologist or technician at hand to ensure that the lowest possible exposure setting is utilized.
If a physician strongly recommends the use of a CT scan, it is worthwhile to inquire about the possibility of having MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) done in its place. MRI does not utilize ionizing radiation and provides much of the same information that CT scans do. MRI is more expensive than CT scanning.
If you are not aware of the dangers of being exposed to ionizing radiation, please read the following article:
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