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CT heart scans: Risk climbs as age at screening falls

Use of computed tomography (CT) scans to investigate heart blockages is becoming common, especially for people entering emergency rooms with severe chest pain. A new study quantifies a downside to these rapid and relatively noninvasive scans: Their X rays can substantially increase an individual's cancer risk. Younger patients, especially women, incur the greatest increases.

Andrew J. Einstein of Columbia University Medical Center and his colleagues employed computer modeling to calculate radiation exposures to organs as would occur during CT scanning of a man's or woman's heart. The researchers then estimated the likelihood that these phantom organs would develop cancer. They did this by comparing the estimated X-ray doses to those corresponding to age- and gender-adjusted cancer risks in the National Academy of Sciences' most recent report on radiation effects.

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