Every year thousands of patients are sent to diagnostic imaging centers to undergo a simple computed tomography, or CT, scan. This procedure essentially creates three-dimensional images of the inside of the body using hundreds of X-rays taken all at once. Heralded for its ability to help doctors see inside the body at things that were once only visible through biopsy or surgery, the procedure is quite common, quite painless and quite useful. Despite its benefits, some worry that CT scans and the radiation they produce could be potentially harmful for patients.
Research has shown that CT scans, used in moderation, pose little risk. The National Cancer Institute, for example, estimates additional risk of developing cancer from a scan is about 1 in 2,000, which is extremely slight considering a person’s lifetime risk of dying from cancer is 1 in 5. Even so, researchers say that CT scans might be overused in today’s medical climate in some cases. While some scans are 100-percent medically necessary, not all are.
Patients who are asked to go in for CT scans will find the procedure is relatively quick and involves no pain. It’s rather like going in for a standard X-ray. If concerns about radiation exposure are present, patients can ask if other diagnostic procedures, such as an ultrasound or MRI, might be used instead. In some cases, a different tool may provide the same information. In others, however, the CT scan may prove to be the most effective, best tool for the job.
When used appropriately, CT scans offer doctors important, potentially lifesaving information. If this type of test has been ordered, there’s no cause for alarm. Radiation exposure is relatively low. If overuse of this test is suspected, however, patients should feel comfortable asking why the test is being ordered and if other options might be available. The bottom line, however, is that CT scans, when used appropriately, are highly valuable tools for helping doctors diagnose and treat conditions without having to resort to more invasive measures.