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Rise in CT Scans Poses Cancer Risk
Date:11/28/2007

One-third of the scans are unnecessary, Columbia researchers contend

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 28 (HealthDay News) -- The number of CT scans performed in the United States has increased dramatically since the 1980s, and that means an increased risk of cancer for patients caused by exposure to high doses of radiation, a new report contends.

Today, more than 62 million CT scans a year are done in the United States, compared with 3 million in 1980. A CT scan -- an imaging method that uses X-rays to create cross-sectional pictures of the body -- can have radiation doses 50 to 250 times greater than the dose of a conventional X-ray, the report's authors note.

"The radiation doses from CT scans have been clearly demonstrated to increase cancer risk," David J. Brenner, director of the Columbia University Radiological Research Accelerator Facility, said during a news conference Tuesday. "On an individual basis, not a big individual risk, but a small risk applied to an increasingly large population spells trouble down the road," he added.

Brenner and his colleague Eric J. Hall, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, detailed their concerns in a report in the Nov. 29 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Cancers from radiation, except leukemia, take years to develop, Brenner said. "However, in a few decades, 1.5 to 2 percent of all cancers in the United States may be due to the radiation from CT scans being done now," he said.

It takes 20 to 50 years after exposure to radiation before the full legacy of that exposure becomes evident, Hall said. "It takes a long time before the solid cancers emerge," he said. "The leukemias may come up in the first decade, but the solid cancers take a long time."

Some 4 million to 5 million CT scans are done on children, and children are more sensitive to radiation than adults, Hall added.
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