Risky but Worth It
This week I saw my first patient refuse her CT scan due to her concerns of receiving too much radiation. She stated that she has had numerous scans recently and knows that the radiation can be dangerous. This led me to research this topic a bit and gather some more information so I could be better informed.
I found an article in USA Today that discusses the risks of radiation exposure from tests and other sources. The range extends from the least amount of radiation, a coast-to-coast airplane flight at 0.03mSv, to the greatest amount at 24.0mSv for a CT for a suspected aneurysm. This may seem like a lot of radiation but when looking at the benefits of finding an aneurysm, a blood clot, or cancer the risks are far outweighed. On the other hand, a routine head CT is only 2.0mSv so it should be kept in mind that different exams have very different levels of risk.
The article goes on to discuss scanning children and young adults. It is imperative that we as CT technologists tailor the mA and kVp for the size of the child. My scanner has preset techniques in the various protocols depending upon the weight of the patient.
Unfortunately, "fewer than 50% of radiologists and only 9% of ER doctors were aware that CT scans increase cancer risk," according to a 2004 study in Radiology.
Not all patients are aware of the risks of having multiple CT scans and this is something that their doctors are hopefully keeping track of for them. If you are an informed patient you can ask for the dose of radiation received on any exams that you have. This would be especially important if you frequent different emergency rooms and have scans at different facilities.
Ask the doctor who orders the CT if perhaps there is an alternative exam that is equally good that does not use radiation. Doctors don't always know best and it is up to the patient to be her own advocate.