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Overexposure from CT scans may put Oregon patients at risk

We recently discussed potential medical risks — such as infection, allergic reaction or additional complications — that can result when patients are subjected to unnecessary testing. Today’s posting explores the risks surrounding doctors’ increasing use of computed tomography scans on patients in Oregon and nationwide.

CT scans typically combine special x-ray equipment with computers to produce cross-sectional images of a patient’s body. CT scans can be a powerful diagnostic tool because they often provide greater clarity and provide more details of internal organs, bones, soft tissue and blood vessels than is possible with regular x-ray exams. CT scans have been used to a broad array of ailments, including cancers, cardiovascular disease, infectious disease, trauma and musculoskeletal disorders.

However, there is a price for that greater clarity: CT scans deliver 100 to 500 times the radiation of an ordinary x-ray. That radiation may damage patients’ DNA and, in some cases, cause cancer 10 to 20 years later. According to one source, CT scans account for 75% of Americans’ radiation exposure. They may also account for 1.5 percent of all cancers that occur in the United States.

Some specialists believe that radiation imaging is being overused. There might be several reasons for the unnecessary testing. In an effort to prevent misdiagnoses and errors, doctors might be overcompensating. Perhaps extraneous tests are ordered to drive up costs and increase profits.

Doctors owe a duty of care to advise patients of the risks associated with any procedure, including CT scans. That means that the risks of radiation exposure must be balanced against any diagnostic benefit, with the patient having a say in the decision-making process.

Source: The New York Times, “Medical Radiation Soars, With Risks Often Overlooked,” Jane E. Brody, Aug. 20, 2012

• Our firm handles situations similar to the one discussed in this post. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our Oregon Radiology Error page.