Many of our readers have, at some point, been subjected to a CT scan in the course of medical care. According to the Mayo Clinic, CT scanning has many uses, but is especially suited to scanning for internal injuries other types of trauma. Such scanning allows doctors to diagnose muscle and bone disorders, pinpoint tumors, infections or clots, guide medical procedures, detect diseases and conditions, and monitor the effectiveness of treatments.
As helpful as it can be, CT scanning does have drawbacks. Not only is it expensive, but there are risks in terms of radiation exposure. These risks may be insignificant compared to the risks of failing to monitor a serious health condition, but it is estimated that CT scans are often medically unnecessary. Cancer caused by radiation is, therefore, becoming a concern.
Cancer from radiation exposure often does not show up for years, and determining with certainty whether it was radiation exposure that caused the cancer is usually not possible. While the risk of developing cancer from one CT scan is low, the risk increases when scanning becomes a regular occurrence. Again, for some people it will be a greater risk to go without scanning, but when a patient receives multiple, medically unnecessary scans, this is where a red flag goes up.
A number of efforts have been made within the medical community to work toward reducing unnecessary scanning, but financial incentives and the fear of medical malpractice litigation continues to prompt physicians to order tests more often than they should.
In our next post, we’ll continue looking at the issue of unnecessary medical testing, particularly with respect to physician discipline.