06:49pm Sunday 15 December 2019

CT Scans and Cancer Risk

Recent studies created controversy by indicating CT scans had ties to increased cancer risk.  In addition, a couple of other high profile incidents only heightened the controversy.

How significant is the tie?

“We know there is a link between radiation exposure and the development of cancer,” says Andrew Bierhals, MD, assistant professor of radiology at Washington University School of Medicine, Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology.  “The problem is we don’t know how much radiation one can have to where there’s a problem.”

That’s not to say physicians are discouraging patients from getting CT scans.  While not getting a CT scan done may theoretically reduce a person’s risk of cancer in the future, not getting a scan of the head for, say, an aneurysm could have far graver health consequences.

(To hear more about CT scans and cancer risk, listen to this Cancer Connection podcast with Dr. Bierhals.)

“The reality is we have to look at the risk of potentially developing cancer in the future versus the immediate health risk you have,” he says.

Dr. Bierhals will talk more about cancer risk and CT scans at the free event “To Scan or Not to Scan,” March 11, 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center – Staenberg Family Complex, 2 Millstone Campus Drive in Creve Coeur.  

CT scans take images of the body using x-rays, and while the process is similar to a standard x-ray, the CT obtains images multiple times to put those them in three dimensions.  The advantage is radiologists get an unrivaled look at the body. The disadvantage is higher radiation exposure.

That’s why many radiologists are concerned with lowering the dose to as low as possible while still getting a good image quality.  Also of concern is a growing trend of people getting CT scans for screening prevention purposes.

“We have concerns when people get CT for health screening just to confirm they are well,” says Dr. Bierhals.  “It’s an unnecessary exposure to radiation.”

He adds for people who have concerns, they should ask their physician if another screening test, such as ultrasound or MRI would be an alternative as they have no radiation exposure.

To hear more of Dr. Bierhals at his free event, call 314-TOP-DOCS or 866-867-3627.

Jason Merrill

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