New ct scanners cut radiation, possible cancer risk

    Hospitals in the Philadelphia region are replacing older generations of ct scanners with new ones that expose patients to less radiation.

    Americans undergo tens of millions of CT scans annually — which adds up to a lot of radiation exposure. Hospitals across the US are gradually switching to machines that offer lower doses of radiation.
    (Photo: CT Scanner courtesy Flickr/LodewijkB)

    Lankenau Hospital recently installed its latest gadget: a CT scanner than exposes patients to just half the radiation of older models. Harry Zegel is the chairman of radiology at Main Line Health, which owns Lankenau.

    Zegel: The image quality the resolution is absolutely indistinguishable so there is no adverse penalty that the patient is paying for this.

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    Except that new technology usually comes at a higher price tag. But Amy Barrington, an investigator at the National Cancer Institute, says the lower radiation can reduce a theoretical cancer risk from ct scans.

    Her study last year found that thousands of cancers could be caused by the tens of millions of ct scans performed each year. She’s found radiation can vary widely among different machines.

    Barrington: So one of the other conclusions from these studies is that the doses probably could be reduced and this then also would reduce the cancer risks.

    Barrington says the radiation exposure from clinically necessary CT scans are worth the cancer risk.

    Zegel says ct scans confer a relatively small risk compared to other carcinogens. But the philosophy at his hospital is to offer the smallest amount of radiation possible.

    We want to try to minimize what the theoretical risk is, and to do that at no disadvantage to the patient.

    Zegel says the radiation from an average ct scan is equivalent to about three years of radiation we experience just from living on Earth.

    A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Dr. Harry Zegel’s title at Main Line Health System. WHYY regrets the error.

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