New Studies Show CT Scans Cause Tens of Thousands of Cancers Each Year

The hot medical news story of this week is one that interests me greatly as a defective medical device attorney. According to a Dec. 14 article from HealthDay News, two studies published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine say CT scans, the commonly used diagnostic tool, may cause as many as tens of thousands of cancers each year. Doctors have always known that CT scans expose patients to radiation, but the studies found that patients who undergo them are exposed to more radiation than originally though. The authors of the study believe the risk is so serious that they asked doctors to carefully consider whether each CT scan is worthwhile and inform patients of the risk beforehand.
CT scans (formerly called CAT scans) use computer technology and X-rays to create detailed pictures of the inside of patients’ bodies. Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman, a lead author on one study, said doctors have lowered their thresholds for using CT scans so much that some patients get no real benefit from them. In fact, her team’s study said the use of the scans has grown dramatically in the past 30 years, from 3 million a year in 1980 to nearly 70 million in 2007. That’s a problem because the dose of radiation a patient receives during an abdominal scan can be as high as 90 millisieverts, which the article said was equivalent to thousands of X-rays. Radiation doses vary according to the type of scan, and tolerance varies across patients. One doctor quoted said that patients could expect to be exposed to that amount of background radiation over 30 years — but with a CT scan, it comes all at once and focused on the body.
And this, the two studies said, can cause cancers. Smith-Bindman’s team found that one in 270 women and one in 600 men who undergo a coronary angiography CT scan at age 40 will develop cancer. That risk was doubled for 20-year-old patients and halved for 60-year-olds. The other study, headed by Amy Berrington de Gonzalez of the National Cancer Institute, broke down cancer risks according to gender, age and the type of scan. They predicted that CT scans performed in 2007 alone would result in 29,000 cancers, 14,500 of which would be fatal. The highest risks came from chest, head, abdominal and pelvis scans — all of the most commonly performed. Women bore the greatest risk because they get the scans more often and are more likely to develop breast and abdominal cancers. In addition to warning patients and considering whether CT scans are truly necessary, study authors suggested tracking radiation exposure through a searchable database of medical records.
Radiologists stressed that fear of cancer should not stop patients from getting CT scans that help doctors address other major health issues, like heart disease. But as a dangerous medical device lawyer, I wonder how many patients have already developed life-threatening cancers because they submitted to a scan their doctors recommended. As a rule, patients trust that treatments and diagnostics their doctors recommend are safe and effective, or at least worth the risk. However, the oldest CT equipment, which tends to deliver the highest doses of radiation, is still in use, and patients are unlikely to be told how old the equipment is. That’s true even though the cancer risk from radiation is well understood and has been for decades. Going forward, patients can ask careful questions and give informed consent to CT scans. But for those already exposed, it may be too late to do anything more than assign responsibility after the disease develops.


Medical device manufacturers have a legal responsibility to ensure that their products are safe to use — and don’t actually cause new health problems in users. When they fail to do so, whether intentionally or not, they are legally and financially liable for any serious injuries or diseases they cause. Carey, Danis & Lowe represents patients and families from around the United States who were seriously harmed by a defective medical device or pharmaceutical. In many of our cases, the permanent, long-term harm done by the defective product is further complicated by the financial cost of treating the new condition, and sometimes by the loss of the victim’s ability to work and pay those new medical bills. Our medical device liability attorneys help patients sue the manufacturers who caused those injuries and bills, allowing them to claim back all of their costs and financial losses, as well as compensation for their physical and emotional injuries.
If a defective, ineffective or otherwise dangerous medical device has seriously harmed your family, you should call the Lowe Law Firm right away. To learn more about your legal rights and options at a free, confidential consultation, please contact us online today or call 1-877-678-3400 toll-free.