The CT scan was invented in 1972 by British engineer Godfrey Hounsfield of EMI Laboratories, England and South Africa-born physicist Allan Cormack of Tufts University, Massachusetts. Hounsfield and Cormack were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their contributions to medical science.
Presently, there are about 6,000 CT scanners installed in the US and about 30,000 installed worldwide. CT scans use a high dose of radiation to give a cross-sectional image of the human body. However, do you know the impact of this radiation on your body? Is it necessary to go for CT scans? Is there a substitute? Are CT scans safe? Many patients and doctors around the world underestimate the danger posed by the radiation of CT scans.
What Is Computed Tomography (CT) Scan?
Computed Tomography or CT scan is the imaging process that uses ultra-advanced X-ray technology to produce a more detailed and cross-sectional image of your body. CT scans images slice the patient’s body like a loaf. It helps your doctor locate many unexplored medical issues.
CT scans identify some common problems related to several parts of your body. These are:
- Head – Blood clots, skull fractures, tumours, and infections, head injuries
- Spine – Vertebral fractures and herniated intervertebral disks
- Chest – Heart abnormalities, lung abnormalities and infections
- Abdomen – Tumours, infections, abnormal anatomy, appendicitis and cysts, kidney and bladder stones, internal organs, ulcerative colitis
- Blood – Coronary artery disease, blood vessel aneurysms, blood clots
Advantages of CT Scans:
The Computed Tomography (CT) scans help identify cancer in nascent stages and help in early diagnosis and lead to greater life expectancy. You won’t feel pain during the scan. Plus, you have to pay less money. It is also a comparatively lower risk as compared to exploratory surgery. The latest multi-slice CT scanner is faster and produces better 3D images of your internal body and detects small abnormalities better.
CT scan helps:
- Determine the time of surgeries and whether the treatment is necessary
- Reduces the need for exploratory surgeries
- Diagnoses a condition and guides medical procedures, such as injury, cardiac disease and stroke
- Monitor the effectiveness of cancer treatment
- Improve patient’s placement into a specialized unit of care, such as intensive care units
The Age Factor:
CT scans increase the risk for children and teenager below the age of 18. If you are 18 years or above, you have a lesser risk of radiation-related health problems, such as thyroid problems compared to children. It’s safer to do CT scan for old people rather than children, since the body tissues of old people are less sensitive to radiation.
Facts of Risks Associated with CT Scans:
A new Consumer Reports in the US surveyed 1,019 U.S. adults which found that doctors do not tell their patients about the risks of CT scans. Several studies have shown that some doctors themselves underestimate the danger of CT scans. According to CR investigators, here are some statistics:
- One CT scan can expose you to as much radiation as 200 chest X-rays.
- 15,000 people are estimated to die each year due to cancer caused by CT scan radiation.
- After the nuclear power plant accident in 2011 in Japan, the CT scan of the abdomen delivers more radiation than most residents of Fukushima were exposed to.
- 9% of 45 emergency-room physicians said they knew that CT scans increased the risk of cancer.
- One out of 1,000 children, who have an abdominal CT scan, develops cancer.
- Less than 10% of people surveyed said their doctor had warned them about the radiation risks of medical imaging.
Are CT Scans Safe for You?
“If the scan isn’t necessary or emits the wrong dose of radiation, the risks far outweigh the benefits. All too often children are receiving adult-sized doses of radiation, which is many times the amount they need. The dose directly increases the risk of leukaemia or a solid tumour.”
- Stephen Swensen, MD, Medical Director at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota
There is an increase in the use of CT scans over the last couple of years. Unfortunately, CT scans emit a powerful dose of radiation. The radiation creates free radicals. The radicals alter cellular DNA, damage cells, which often leads to cancer. The more radiation people are exposed to, the greater the risk of cancer. Therefore, people, especially children are unsafe.
You should not avoid CT scans if you really need it. However, the more you’re exposed, the greater the risk of cancer. You have to consult your doctor or radiologist regarding whether you should undergo CT scans. If there is proper assessment along with proper medical care, CT scans can definitely save a patient’s life. Though research has shown that there is a lower risk of cancer from CT scans, do not ignore the radiation due to CT scans as it can lead to different types of cancers each year.
The American College of Radiology advises that an imaging exam should not be done unless there is a clear medical benefit.
Doctors are encouraged to use the minimal radiation necessary when performing imaging exams. If your doctor recommends a CT scan, it would be better to ask about the potential benefits to your health, which can lessen the risk from radiation.
Are CT Scans Safe During Pregnancy?
Prior to any testing and medical procedures, you should inform your doctor that you are pregnant. A CT scan involves exposure to radiation at higher levels than normal x-rays. As a result, you may experience itching, nausea or rapid breathing. Only if the benefits of CT scans clearly outweigh the potential risk, you can undergo CT scans once your doctor approves. Otherwise, CT scans are not recommended during pregnancy.
Are CT Scans Safe for Babies?
If you are a nursing mother, you should wait 24 to 48 hours after receiving an injection of dye used for CT scans before continuing breastfeeding. The dye can be passed through breast milk to the baby.
Things You Should Follow:
CT scans can be an extremely valuable clinical assessment tool, only if you abide by the following points:
- Take the radiation-free alternative like MRI or Ultrasound which can act better.
- Check whether CT scan procedure is accredited by the American College of Radiology, the CT technologists are accredited by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, and there is a board-certified radiologist.
- Request the copies of your scans to show to new doctors and avoid unnecessary repeat scans.
- It would be better to avoid full-body CT scans since there is a higher risk as compared to benefits for whole body screening unless expressly advised.
- If you do CT scans for your children, get recommendations for 3D dental (cone-beam) CTs.
At Regency Medical Centre, with spiral high-resolution CT scans (Tomoscan), Optimus Philips X-rays machine, Ultrasound for visceral organs, you will experience ultra-advanced interventional radiology and comprehensive cross-sectional imaging service. Our senior radiologists and qualified technicians work with world-class technologies to deliver critical tests and screenings in a short span of time.
And most importantly, we make it a point to not haphazardly order CT tests and instead recommend them only when necessary.