Do you really need that X-ray or CT scan?

Consumer Reports News: October 07, 2010 07:38 AM

Have you had an X-ray or CT-scan lately? The number of such scans has multiplied in recent years to some 70 million. And nearly a third of CT scans done in adults and a quarter of those in children are like to be inappropriate, according to a 2007 article in the New England Journal of Medicine. All that exposure translates into substantial risks. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute have estimated that 29,000 cancers could stem from CT scans performed in 2007, particularly of the abdomen, chest, head, and pelvis.

To help correct the problem, the Radiological Society of North America recently called for a new plan to limit and track radiation exposure from imaging tests. Until that system is in place, here are few things you can do:

1. Learn about the risks. Go to for details about radiation doses from common imaging tests.

2. Ask about alternatives. Before you undergo any imaging test involving X-rays, ask if it’s really necessary or if there are any alternatives. And make sure your doctor knows about other tests you have had, so you can both determine whether the risk of the additional exposure is worthwhile.

3. Avoid duplicate tests. Make sure that medical records travel with you to different departments and facilities, so that tests aren’t unnecessarily repeated.

Rosemary Gibson, guest blogger

Rosemary is the author of "The Treatment Trap: How the Overuse of Medical Care is Wrecking Your Health and What You Can Do to Prevent It," Ivan R. Dee, publisher, 2010

Read more about unnecessary imaging tests.


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