A new study in The New England Journal of Medicine has found that at least four million Americans under age 65 are exposed to high doses of radiation each year from medical imaging tests. It was reported that about 400,000 of those patients receive very high doses, more than the maximum annual exposure allowed for nuclear power plant employees or anyone else who works with radioactive material. The results from the study were published by the Journal in late August. The survey, which covered patients from 2005 to 2007, included almost one million patients insured by UnitedHealthcare.
The number of cancer cases that the radiation might cause over the next several decades was not mentioned in the study. It has been estimated, however, that the number could be in the tens of thousands of additional cancers. Each individual patient is a relatively minor additional risk from the tests, but because they are given to so many people, it is felt that the cumulative risk is significant.
The use of the tests has risen sharply in the last two decades, as more and more physicians have bought CT and PET scanners and installed them in or near their offices. In 2007, the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that the number of CT scans given to Medicare patients had almost quadrupled from 1995 to 2005, while the number of PET scans had risen even faster. The new study’s lead author, Dr. Reza Fazel, a cardiologist at Emory University, said the use of scans appeared to have increased even more from 2005 to 2007, the period covered by the survey.
Source: New York Times
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