The discovery of X-rays helped tranform medicine by making it possible to peer inside the body without making an incision.
But it’s possible to overdo even a good thing like that. And a pair of papers in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine add to a growing chorus urging doctors to be more judicious in their use of CT scans.
X-ray radiation raises the risk of cancer. And state-of-the-art CT scanners can expose patients to lots of radiation – both in routine tests and in even more extreme doses when something goes wrong.
Radiologist Rebecca Smith-Bindman writes that she and her colleagues figure the risk of getting “cancer from a single CT scan could be as high as 1 in 80….” That’s too high. She argues for lower radiation doses for all scans as well as a reduction in the number of scans performed.
Separately, radiologist Bruce Hillman and health policy guru Jeff Goldsmith argue for more thoughtful use of scans on economic and clinical grounds. The explosive growth in the number of scans has come at an enormous cost.
“There is broad agreement that an unknown but substantial fraction of imaging examinations are unnecessary and do not positively contribute to patient care,” they write.
So, they ask the medical community to look inward and figure out how to change the culture and educational system that has contributed to indiscrimate imaging.