Research shows that radiation from CT scans isn’t as bad as once thought.
You should not hesitate to visit the ER because you think a CT scan will be ordered.
What may be particularly concerning to some individuals is a CT scan of the head after they hit their head in an accident.
“The risk of death related to brain hemorrhage is far higher than the small risk related to a CT scan,” says Resham Mendi, MD, a renowned expert in the field of medical imaging, and the medical director of Bright Light Medical Imaging.
“The ER doctor will assess the patient first,” continues Dr. Mendi. “If they do not feel that there is a significant risk of brain bleed, they will not do the CT.
“If they think there is a risk, the CT is well worth it.
“Also, the brain is a low-radiosensitivity organ, meaning, that it is not very susceptible to the bad effects of radiation.”
In short, if you got hit in the head really hard and are experiencing symptoms (worsening headache, nausea, increased drowsiness, problems with vision), you’d better get to the emergency room ASAP and put your fear of brain cancer from a CT scan under the rug.
A report in American Journal of Clinical Oncology has some interesting findings.
The risk of cancer from CT scans and X-rays is estimated by a model called the linear no-threshold (LNT).
These risk estimates, however, “have never been conclusively demonstrated by empirical evidence,” notes James Welsh, MD, in the paper.
Dr. Welsh’s research shows that the LNT model assumes there does not exist a safe dose of radiation.
The LNT model is based on studies of many decades ago on fruit flies, when researchers believed there was no safe level of radiation. Their experiments did not use low enough doses, believes Dr. Welsh.
That’s not to say that radiation isn’t as dangerous at high enough levels.
But Dr. Welsh’s investigation considered the radiation only from CT scans and X-rays, which occur at lower doses than those released from, say, a nuclear plant accident.
Dr. Welsh says that skeptics about CT scan radiation should vigorously challenge danger claims, as they serve “to alarm and perhaps harm, rather than educate,” he says in the report. He wants the LNT model to be abandoned.
If a CT scan is ordered for your or your child’s head injury, or for some other symptom such as chest pain, ask how it can help guide your diagnosis.
Ask what the worst case scenario might be if you refuse the CT scan (or X-ray).