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Is Your CT Scan or X-ray Necessary?

Is Your CT Scan or X-ray Necessary?

Every day 19,500 computed tomography (CT) scans are performed in the United States. From 2005 to 2007, more than 70 percent of American adults were zapped. But are CT scans safe? CT scans typically give you radiation equal to 75 chest X-rays. Based on research published by the National Cancer Institute, we now believe that around 29,000 future cases of cancer may result from the 72 million CT scans done in 2007 alone.

Can airport body scanners increase your cancer risk?

In addition to CT scans, avoid these other scans if they aren't necessary: PET scans, dental X-rays, virtual colonoscopies and more. In the movie "Minority Report," Tom Cruise's character has his eyes scanned by an ad that then greets him by name. It's not so far-fetched when you consider there's a machine in Las Vegas with advertisements that scan a passerby and offer shopping suggestions.

How dental X-rays affect your health.

So what can you do? According to an Institute of Medicine report, eliminating unnecessary CT scans lowers a woman's risk of breast cancer. The American College of Radiology and the American Academy of Family Physicians advise people to be equally cautious about scans for headaches or low back pain.

We say be a smart consumer of scans. While a CT scan and other X-rays can be life-saving and make early diagnosis possible, always ask:

  • Is this scan necessary? (We say, ask three times!)
  • Could a different test with less radiation provide the needed information for my diagnosis?
  • Could a different test be as useful in determining how my condition is treated?
  • Is the scan set to use the lowest dose necessary for results?
  • Can I wait to see a specialist first?

Be scanner smart.

Medically reviewed in May 2019.

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