The number of Americans undergoing advanced imaging tests has skyrocketed, increasing their exposure to radiation that may result in cancer later in life, a study found.
The use of computed tomography, or CT, scans tripled between 1996 and 2010, research today in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed. The number of people receiving high to very high doses of radiation from imaging during a given year doubled over the 15-year study.
Improvements in technology, demand by doctors and patients for the tests, defensive medical practices and medical uncertainty are most likely behind the increased use of advanced imaging, the authors wrote. About 2 percent of future cancers will result from current imaging use if the present rate continues, they said.
“Imaging is clearly overused and we need to begin to make more informed choices regarding when and how to image, understanding that there are clear and definite benefits but also harms from imaging,” said lead study author Rebecca Smith- Bindman, a professor of radiology and biomedical imaging at the University of California, San Francisco, in a June 11 e-mail.
In the study, the first major investigation into how radiation exposure has increased within private health systems, researchers analyzed electronic medical records of six large integrated health-plan systems in the U.S. The health groups included Kaiser Permanente in Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii and Oregon/Washington, Group Health Cooperative in Washington and Marsfield Clinic and Security Health Plan in Wisconsin.