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Certain Tests in ERs Raise Cancer Risk for Some
Date:5/29/2008

enner estimated that more than 62 million CT scans are now performed each year, up from just 3 million in 1980 -- despite the observation that upwards of one-third of all such scans are, in fact, medically unnecessary.

"Nevertheless, I would not go so far as to recommend patient standards," said Bullard. "Because how much a patient needs to undergo depends on each individual patient. Some may need a lot of diagnostic tests, and you wouldn't want to put a limit on what diagnostically could be done. But I do think that doctors and patients should be aware of exposure histories. And as a physician, before ordering a routine diagnostic test, I tend now to think: 'Do I really need this answer, and is there maybe another way to get it?' Bottom-line: Is this test absolutely necessary?"

Bullard and his colleagues suggested that the adoption of portable electronic medical records could help provide physicians with an easily accessible and clear indication of prior patient radiation exposure -- so doctors could make more judicious decisions regarding future testing.

Dr. James E. Winslow, an assistant professor at Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., said the current study makes a lot of "good points."

"We've conducted our own study over the first few months of 2006 among 86 trauma patients, and we're finding average exposure levels of 41 mSV in just the first 24 hours of hospitalization," he said. "And some, certainly, had significantly more than that."

Winslow noted that over the course of an entire year, a Space Station astronaut will be exposed to 174 mSV.

"So, we're talking, potentially, about a big problem here," he said. "And I think doctors need to be aware that the screenings they are ordering do involve significant radiation output."

More information

For details on diagnostic tests and radiation exposure, visit the

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