A new study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (“JAMA”) has found that more doctors are exposing their patients to radiation than ever before. The study found that doctors have increased their use of diagnostic imaging, such as CT and PET scans, and in effect increased patients’ exposure to radiation.
The study looked at nearly two million patients a year from the years 1996 to 2010 through six different H.M.O.’s in the United States and found that the number of CT scans tripled while the number of M.R.I.’s quadrupled.
Prolonged or unnecessary exposure to radiation has been linked to brain cancer and leukemia in small children but the harms resulting from exposure are still being studied.
The study pointed out that advanced imaging that requires some exposure to radiation certainly has more benefits than risks because it allows problems to be discovered earlier and more accurately by physicians and anything found is more treatable than it would be if found later.
Additionally, the concern is not the amount of radiation that a patient is exposed to at any one examination; rather the risk is over-exposure via unnecessary testing. Many times physicians are practicing “defensive medicine” and this results in patients undergoing far more testing than necessary.
Some examples of where physicians are cutting down on exposing patients to radiation unnecessarily are: CT scans for sinus infections, and CT and PET scans for early prostate and breast cancers that did not seem likely to metastasize (when cancer spreads to other areas of the body).
Surely the increase in radiation exposure is a concern, however, it could be argued that more and more patients are benefiting from the advances in medical technology and this could reduce costs while raising the health status of many Americans.
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