Emergency room patients may receive too much radiation from diagnostic tests like CT scanning
Timothy Bullard and his colleagues calculated ER patients’
exposure to radiation in four different
The findings were presented May 29 at the annual Society for Academic Emergency Medicine meeting.
While the group did not look at cancer rates, past studies,
including those at
“If you took a thousand people and gave them each one CT scan, you’d find one additional case of cancer,” he says. While the imaging test increases a person's cancer risk only slightly, over a population that can translate to several thousand extra cases of cancer a year, Bullard says.
What's more, Bullard's team believes their calculations underestimate how much radiation people absorb over a lifetime. “We looked at just one hospital in each system,” he says. “If you look over a longer period of time, and include other facilities, I'm sure the exposure would be higher.”
Despite the risk, Bullard says nuclear imaging is often a
necessary tool for diagnosis. However, doctors need to be aware of the
radiation doses associated with each of these tests. One way to make sure
people don't get unnecessary tests would be to develop standards for when scans
are administered, says David Brenner, a radiation biophysicist at
“The question is whether all those people really needed the CT exams they got,” Brenner says. “Many places where you go into the ER with abdominal trauma, you’ll pretty well automatically get a CT scan, and sometimes that’s needed and sometimes that’s not.”