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Report Shows CT Scans Actually Increase Lung Cancer Risks

Michael Becker
Doctors often advise patients who are smokers and suffering from nagging coughs and other respiratory problems to undergo CT scans because the computed tomography (CT) scan can identify early signs of cancer in a patient’s chest. However, a recent study by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) revealed that many smokers who underwent CT scans had more of a chance of dying from cancer than smokers who didn’t have the tests. The reason, said the NCI, was the radiation emitted by the scanners.

The results are preliminary, however, this doesn’t negate the fact that they are startling. The technology behind CT scans is credited with diagnosing cancers that regular X-ray machines can’t visualize. And when X-rays do catch a tumor, especially in a lung, it’s often too late.

While doctors have always believed CT screenings save lives, the NCI study shows that patients are instead exposed to 100 times more radiation than that from a typical X-ray. That higher exposure, therefore, according to the study, could result in a greater risk for a cancer diagnosis by age 60.

Even more alarming, one out of every three CT scans produces a false positive that, in some cases, results in unnecessary surgery.

CT scans have become a staple of cancer care, with a reported 70 million performed in the U.S. in 2007. The radiation emitted by the scans has caused such concern, however, that some doctors no longer recommend them. Other issues involving the scanners involve the discovery of other ailments that might in fact be false alarms yet lead to unneeded and expensive care.

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