Researchers find that CT scans may increase chances of cancer

July 29, 2015, 10:34 p.m.

A recent study led by Stanford School of Medicine scientists has found that CT scans can cause cellular damage, with the main concern being cancer.

In an article by the Stanford Medicine News Center, Patricia Nguyen, a lead author of the study and assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine, explained, however, that the cancer is not necessarily caused by CT scans but that it remains a concern.

“I think there are legitimate concerns about the exposure to low-dose radiation, but the problem is that it is difficult to prove a causal relationship with cancer,” Nguyen said. “Even though we show some damage is occurring at a cellular level, this damage is being repaired.”

“It is the damage that escapes repair, or the cells that are not eliminated and are mutated, that go on and produce cancer,” she added. “We can’t track those cells with current technology.”

The study examined the effects of low doses of radiation that patients experience during CT scans. Researchers found that the CT scan, a full-body scan, exposes its patients to 150 times more radiation than a chest X-ray. As a result, there is a possibility that while some cell damage is repaired, other damaged cells mutate and reproduce as cancer cells.

Yet, Nguyen explained that the exact effects of low-dose radiation are still unclear.

“[W]e don’t know much about the effects of low-dose radiation — all we know is about high doses from atomic bomb blast survivors,” Nguyen said.

Despite these uncertainties, one conclusion from the study was clear: CT scans result in an increase of cell death and DNA damage, albeit by a small percentage. Nguyen also noted, however, that “patients receiving the lowest doses of radiation and who were of average weight and had regular heart rates” did not experience DNA damage.

Nguyen explained that more research on low-dose radiation is imperative because the effects are definitely not benign. A bill is currently going to Congress to request more funding for such studies.


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