December 15th, 2009
06:58 PM ET

Evening Buzz: CT Scan Cancer Risk

Maureen Miller
AC360° Writer

Are you one of the millions of Americans who has gotten a CT scan? Two new studies raise concerns over the test used to get a look at everything from hearts to the pelvis.

Researchers say the radiation doses from the scans are higher than previously thought and may led to 29,000 cancers.

360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta has the medical facts you need to know tonight on the program.

Plus, we're following the new power plays over health care reform. Sen. Joe Lieberman is possibly the the most powerful and hated man on Capitol Hill right now. He says he's prepared to back a Senate plan if it excludes both a public option and a provision allowing Americans over the age of 55 to buy into Medicare.

CNN's Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash spoke with Lieberman today. She'll bring you the raw politics.

And, we're tracking how your tax dollars are being spent on Capitol Hill. The Senate approved a $447 billion spending bill that is headed to the Oval Office for Pres. Obama's signature. The bill is loaded with 5,000 earmarks worth almost $4 billion. This is the type of spending the Obama administration vowed to stop, but lawmakers are still at it. Joe Johns will share with you what earmarks are in the bill. We're keeping them honest

Join us for these stories and much more starting at 10 p.m ET. See you then!

Filed under: Maureen Miller • The Buzz
soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. lisa

    I get ct scans with & without every yr. I am a melanoma survivor so scans are done to detect anything shown. this really concerns me and I really need to know if there are any other options. I was never comfortable to begin with taking all the scans and ultrasounds and xrays that I get all year long.

    December 16, 2009 at 9:05 am |
  2. rodell


    December 16, 2009 at 5:51 am |
  3. Eric Dyson

    I am a CT Technologist who looks at both sides of the issue. Does the benefit of a CT Scan exceed the risk of radiation exposure. I believe the technology of today is less invasive, provides more information in critical clinical situations such as head injuries, headaches, chest pain, pulmonary embolism and a whole host of other life threatening circumstances. Some of the above mentioned circumstances are critical, but what about those circumstances where symptoms are not evident. Of course there is no replacement for good clinical practices; however, abstaining from using this technology could lead to misdiagnosing diseases that could be life threatening. Such as Colon and Pancreatic cancers which often are symptomless. There is no compromise to saving a loved ones life. Who knows what will happen twenty or thirty years from now to irradiated individuals. What about he countless lives that were saved from the benefit of having a CT Scan and an unanticipated abnormality was found. Physicians of today make decisions with the best interest of their patients at heart and use the technology where necessary. Not abuse it, as the media indicates.

    December 16, 2009 at 2:38 am |
  4. Tim

    I'm 50 and between my neck, back and digestive problems I've had atleast 35 ct scans in St. Louis in 13 years.

    December 16, 2009 at 2:33 am |
  5. francine

    My teenage son had a CT scan for meningitis test but it turned out he had a strep infection 1 1/2 months ago. After recovering from the infection, he has started losing hair and now he almost become bald especailly in the front. I brought him to the doctors but they all said nothing. I was so worried about that.

    December 16, 2009 at 2:30 am |

    In 2007, I was given a CT scan of my abdomen at a private hospital in Encino, Ca. The emergency room doctor couldn't figure out why I had encountered diarrhea for 4 weeks straight -later discovering, though through a private doctor, that all I needed was an antibiotic because I had an intestinal infection. Also, the private physician did not even examine me!
    Anyway, when I was being given the CT scan, I asked the technician, "how much radiation am I receiving?" His reply SHOCKED me!!!!!
    He said that in the few SECONDS for the procedure, I was being given enough RADIATION equivalent to lying on a beach in the SUN for 9 MONTHS !!!!!!! Just to think, the hospital physicians ordered the CT just as routine !!!!!!!

    December 16, 2009 at 2:25 am |
  7. Jeff

    As a CT technologist, I wish I could do more in order to prevent a lot of the scans ordered from being preformed. It is a conflict of interest to challenge a M.D. order to do a CT. There seems to be a lot of scans that are ordered in the ER just to quickly rule out the most serious possible illness, while allowing the doctors to see as many patients as fast as possible. CT is a great tool, just abused and overused.

    December 16, 2009 at 2:19 am |
  8. Bo

    I am 22 years old and I have been a cancer patient since 2006 with Hodgkin's lymphoma. I have had numerous scans, both PET and CT. This has always been on my mind and I think there is an overuse of these technologies. I have had probably 10 PET scans and around about the same number of CT scans in the past three years. I am concerned that this amazing technology is overused by physicians. Technicians wear safety badges that show the amount of radiation they've been exposed to, why is this not necessary for a patient who has multiple scans over an extended period of time?

    December 16, 2009 at 2:16 am |
  9. Suzanne

    I had an infection after my son was born and they ran a random CT scan to find out what was going on. It did find the problem, but also found a tumor in my upper abdomen. I go in for a CT scan yearly to find re-growth and although I appreciate the story, it also saved my life and the CT scan found something that could have killed me. The benefits for wht a CT scan can find is far better than other options and the price to live longer and be there for your kids, well there are no words for that. Even if there are problems with it, at least I no longer have a tumor growing in me and will continue to get checked every 3 months so that if re-growth occurs, I can fight it.

    December 16, 2009 at 2:12 am |
  10. Carol

    I made the decision 7 years ago to stop getting mammograms and asked for ultra sound imaging for breast cancer diagnosis. Three radiologists verbally abused me for my decision. One even said that I might be leaving the office that day with cancer. Talk about instilling fear! And this was at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago. Finally, they made special arrangements for me so that a radiologist would not harass me when I came in for my yearly exam. I now live in Canada and when I asked for an ultra sound, there was no problem at all.
    Anderson, I believe that women should be concerned about the radiation received during a mammogram as well as a CT scan. I have heard that 2 to 3% of breast cancers are caused by the radiation. I recently questioned a doctor who was prescribing a CT scan for my relative and she agreed that radiation was a risk. Thank you for reporting on this issue. Please look into mammogram screenings.

    December 16, 2009 at 1:57 am |
  11. Chad

    I am a CT Technologist and have been for 8+yrs now. Many people are blaming excessive CT scans on Physcians, but no one seems to put any blame on the patients. There are patients out there that could be classified as hypochondriacs that go to there PCP's or the ER way too much. Most of the ailments they go for such as abdomen pain, headaches (just to mention a few), and for most of these types of symptoms and physcian will order a CT scan for a proper diagnosis. We live in such a "lawsuit happy" world now that any Dr will cover themselves in any way, if it means ordering a CT regardless of how many the patient has had in their lifetime so be it. I just think that patients need to be more responsible and more aware of what radiation actually is. We as healthcare professionals especially Radiology professionals take radiation exposure seriously and try to minimize the dose in any way.

    December 16, 2009 at 1:18 am |
  12. dean wysocki

    50% of CT scans are not critical, then MRI 's need to get used, non-ionizing magnetic field, completely safe, just takes longer to get the image and more to maintain the machine.

    December 16, 2009 at 1:15 am |
  13. Richard

    As mentioned in the above responses, people are afraid of too much radiation. I was told some 40 years ago that working behind a radar scope could cause cancer. After all these years, I have not developed cancer. I cannot believe that the makers of the CT machine don't also produce a manual that advises of the amount of radation to be used to produce a satisfactory picture depending on the object to be examined. I also cannot believe the hospitals don't have the machines calibrated and the correct amount advised to accomplish the required photos. Ex. Why used a 50 cal machine gun if a 38 will do the job. Thank you.

    December 15, 2009 at 11:50 pm |
  14. Michael

    I am in charge of ct scanner that looks at CTA of the coronary arteries. This field has opened up so many possibilities of picking up critical coronary artery disease at an early stage. Radiation is a risk, but the chances of an average American male, and female, suffering a major cariac event far exceeds the risk of radiation induced cancer. CTA has been unbelievable in detecting diease elsewhere such as in the lower extremties, renal arteries and the carotid arteries. IT has replaced the need for many conventional angiograms, and when done, allows the doctor to go in and treat a specific problem, rather than wasting time and contrast to screen.

    The above comments reflect a certain hysteria that is dangerous for medicine and future developments. I agree about the knee-jerk reflex that many ER docs have in ordering CT scans to cover everyhting. In part this is due to the legal climate created in America. With no tort reform in store with Obama and his health care policy, I do not see this improving,

    December 15, 2009 at 11:42 pm |
  15. allan

    i was diagnosed with cutanuous lymphoma (skin legion only , no internal legions or tumors. yet since 1997 i have had a ct scan of the chest, abdomen,and pelvis done yearly and sometimes twice a year. i was never told that it presented a cancer risk.

    December 15, 2009 at 11:34 pm |
  16. L. Trevelyan

    Any medical procedure can have risks. However, one has to weigh that risk against the benefit..Exposure to radiation is a serious concern and needs to be better regulated and used only when absolutely necessary. Patients and their healthcare providers need to ask more questions to ensure that these treatments are as safe as possible.

    December 15, 2009 at 11:29 pm |
  17. Lynn

    I am a CT Tech that works in Wisconsin ..... in regards to Zena's comment about technologists being monitored for Radiation levels and the patients levels being left to the wayside is very incorrect. At our facility every patient's exam is given a dose summary and this summary is monitored. This practice is something that should be taking place in every accredited facility....

    December 15, 2009 at 11:21 pm |
  18. linda

    I had a CT scan seven years ago after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer I was told by my octor that i should have one every fie years, but after hearing he report I am really feeling very skeptical about having one again any more.

    December 15, 2009 at 11:18 pm |
  19. John

    I've been in the CT field for 20+ years, and you have no idea how better scans are now, compared to the past. There are many dose reduction techniques now being applied, that weren't even available or conceived of then. True we are doing more procedures, but the diagnostic information we are giving now is outstanding. There are other safety factors not being considered here also. With a CT scan, no there is less chance of infection or bleeding vs. an invasive angiogram in the cath lab. If your going to show the down side of CT, as in dose, please get all the benefits provided to the public.

    Yes, we do more CT procedures now, than ever before. But we can see so much more now, than ever before.

    December 15, 2009 at 11:15 pm |
  20. joel

    I am scheduled to have one performed next week. It is definitely on hold!

    December 15, 2009 at 11:13 pm |
  21. Giovanna - Miami Florida

    CT Scans cause cancer? About 2-weeks ago it was announced that Mammograms should not be performed for women under 50-years of age. Can it be that health insurance company paid lobbyists are spinning yet another tale to confuse and startle Americans and save the companies millions by not performing these type of tests? Whatever the case it appears that the middle class is always getting screwed and without even a kiss. Let's sit back and analyze this new statement, I'm sure the good doctor's will respond accurately.

    December 15, 2009 at 11:12 pm |
  22. Anne

    The reason radiation workers have radiation badges is because they work in this environment every week for years and years, whereas the patients on average, will only have one CT scan in their lifetime. The benefits of a fast, accurate diagnosis far outweigh the drawbacks of a moderate dose of radiation. Yes, there are doctors who over-prescribe these tests, so patients should ask whether in their particular case, an MR or ultrasound (netiher of which entail radiation) could provide comparable diagnostic information. But please, let's keep the radiation paranoia to a minimum.

    December 15, 2009 at 11:06 pm |
  23. Janet

    Patients need to realize this is a valuable diagnostic tool. But many people don't even know why they are having scans. Cancer patients certainly need to be followed for rechecks.

    December 15, 2009 at 10:36 pm |
  24. Zena

    Dr.'s don't diagnose anymore, machines do. They wait for the results of a picture, this is probably more accurate, but at what risk? If you notice the techs in radiology have badges on their bodies to monitor the radiation exposure. Yet no one is monitoring the patients exposure.

    December 15, 2009 at 10:34 pm |
  25. Susan B.

    Regarding the "NEW?" CT scan cancer risk findings – Really?, No one knew about this until now. How is this possible that we have the technology to scan with radiation doses at a fraction of the CT scanners being questioned yet we do not give the general public the
    facts about the Flash CT scanner (less radiation) that may be available to them. Yes, I know we have to pay for those big, expensive, outdated, unhealthy machines!!!!

    December 15, 2009 at 10:30 pm |
  26. Zena

    The tech from illinois is correct. This was a topic of conversation in radiology, how dr's no longer diagnosis with out a cat scan. One can even tell which dr. was on shift, by the number of cat scans ordered.

    December 15, 2009 at 10:30 pm |
  27. Zena

    I also believe if it is possible, ask your dr. can you have an ultrasound. Some dr.s are unaware of the potential risks, and some don't care. They just want the picture. I would say if it is life threatening yes get it. But there were many of times I transported patients who had the stomach flu, for a ct. Dr's often order the wrong c.t. so make sure they are ordering the correct cat scan picture. Remember dr.s aren't trained in radiology. so when you get to radiology you still have a chance to ask questions and refuse.

    December 15, 2009 at 10:27 pm |
  28. Zena

    After working for radiology, I always explain to my relatives the risks involved with c.t.'s Most people having one aren't told the risks, only if they are having one with contrast are they told to sign on the dotted line.

    December 15, 2009 at 10:22 pm |
  29. Chase

    I am a CT technologist that works in Illinois and would like to say doctors are absolutely abusing CT scans. Most of this abuse I see is doctors ordering CT scans through the ER department on patients that are not critical. I would estimate 50% of the CT scans done through the ER are unnecessary. The doctors order a CT so they don't have to diagnose anything and a lot of these doctors don't realize the tremendous amount of radiation the patients are receiving from these tests.

    December 15, 2009 at 10:21 pm |
  30. Zena

    I recently worked at a hospital as a person who transported patients to radiology. When a person is in the E.R. and refuses a ct scan, because of the radiation dr's in turn view this as a arrogance on the patients behalf. Often the ct. technician will also.

    December 15, 2009 at 10:20 pm |
  31. Shellie

    I have been an ER nurse for over 10 years and I can tell you that CT scans are driven from a liability standpoint. Some of the older docs are much more conservative but it seems every patient in the ED gets a CT scan.

    December 15, 2009 at 10:13 pm |
  32. karen

    oh my god again doctors are trying to make us sick. i have a good friend just had her uterus removed, after surviving breast cancer 6 years ago, and giving cancer causing meds. i refuse to get a mamogram, when an ultra sound is the best and less painful test. i am 50 post menopausal, but i refuse to see a doctor for only antiboitics and pain killers. doctors are now only worried about kick backs from drug companies, not the health of thier patients.

    December 15, 2009 at 10:11 pm |
  33. Annie Kate

    I have not had a CT scan but one of my children did. So this is worrisome; I know though that the CT scan did help the medical staff diagnose what was wrong with her. I wonder though since she is in her teens if the CT scan could lead to genetic abnormality in any children she may have later in life.

    Liebermann needs to make up his mind so the health care legislation can be completed and voted on. Looks like to me that asking for the Medicare thing first and now coming out against it is a stalling tactic on Liebermann's part to keep the bill from being passed before the holiday hiatus.

    December 15, 2009 at 10:08 pm |
  34. Arthur

    I am not denying or dismissing that this may be valid, but I have to ask: is this radiophobia running rampant?
    It is accepted that no changes are seen in blood, bone marrow etc under 10 rads (1 CT scan is about 1 rad).
    There is a concept of hormesis: that some radiation is actually good for you.
    As Sanjay said. A lot of this is speculation and based on things like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But people are inclined to overlook that studies of nuclear shipyard workers have found these people (who have higher radiation exposures) actually were found to have lower incidences of cancers.

    December 15, 2009 at 10:05 pm |