It’s one of the cruel ironies of medicine that the same radiation used to diagnose and treat cancer can also cause it. A new study from the National Cancer Institute estimates that CT scans done in 2007 alone will trigger 29,000 cancers and 15,000 cancer deaths—roughly equivalent to the number of Americans who were murdered last year. How’s that for guilt by association?
I’ll admit that seeking a radiologist’s opinion on the risks of radiation is like asking a butcher if it’s safe to eat bacon and sausage. In either case, you shouldn’t expect total objectivity.
Some doctors and medical centers track their patients’ total scan count, a practice that some day may become universal when electronic medical records are the norm. Until then, most of us are on our own. I may lose sleep worrying about my scans, but not because of radiation exposure. I’d love to have such a theoretical risk as my top concern.