Trend: CT scan usage climbing, raising radiation fears

Spurred by improvements in the technology, the use of CT scans has mushroomed in recent years, climbing from 20 million in 1995 to 63 million in 2005. Increasingly, physicians and hospitals are using CT scans to respond to common problems like headaches, abdominal pain and chest pain, as well as substituting them as alternative methods of detecting hidden cancers. However, some physicians have become concerned about the high volume of CT scans being performed, arguing that the radiation generated by the scans could pose a risk for some patients. For example, a chest CT exposes patients to enough radiation at one sitting to create a small increased lifetime risk of dying from cancer. Physicians say they're particularly concerned about patients with some conditions--including kidney stones or Crohn's disease--who get frequent scans.

To address the problem, some physicians are recommending that facilities cut down the level of radiation used in the scan, noting that while higher radiation levels generate better images, lower-quality images might do the job for some diagnoses. Some hospitals, including Boston's Brigham and Women's, are adding the actual radiation dose administered with each scan and adding that to patient charts, so they can monitor for lifetime exposure.

To get more information on this issue:
- read this piece from The Boston Globe

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