(NaturalNews) Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, health experts have warned that overuse of computed tomography (CT) scans poses a major public health risk and must be reigned in by the federal government.
CT scans use X-rays to create three-dimensional images of the body for diagnostic purposes. They expose patients to substantially more radiation than conventional X-rays, with a corresponding increase in lifetime cancer risk.
The scans have surged in popularity in recent years, to the extent that many CT scans performed are now unnecessary or are even repeats of scans that have already been performed. One in 10 U.S. residents now gets a CT scan each year, and the rate continues to grow at 10 percent per year.
"That's really the area we should focus on," said radiologist Rebecca Smith-Bindman of the University of California-San Francisco, author of one of the articles.
Bindman further noted that although the FDA already has the authority to regulate the scanning devices themselves, it does not have the authority to regulate the radiation dose that doctors are exposed to. If there were an accepted standard in place, that might not be a problem. But Smith-Bindman and colleagues found that the radiation dose delivered by the same type of CT scan at four different California hospitals varied as much as 13-fold.
"The doses are much higher and much more variable than people realize," she said. "It's time to make it safer."
In another article, Bruce J. Hillman of the University of Virginia and Jeff Goldsmith, president of the policy and analysis company Health Futures Inc. sought to identify some of the causes for overuse of CT scans. Doctors may be afraid they will be sued if they do not order a test even if they feel it is unnecessary, they noted, and patients may also pressure doctors to perform as many tests as possible.
In addition, many doctors have a financial stake in the labs where CT scans are performed.