The use of CT scans on patients with minor injuries doubled in California in recent years, a new study reports.
The study authors said these findings are concerning because exposure to CT scan radiation has been associated with an increased risk of cancer. One CT scan may be linked to fatal cancer in one in 2,000 patients, according to a 2009 report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“The message for both patients and physicians is that there are long-term risks associated with radiation exposure and there may be situations where imaging is not definitively warranted or beneficial,” said study senior author Dr. Renee Hsia. She is a professor of emergency medicine and health policy at the University of California, San Francisco.
“We can’t conclusively say which cases should not involve imaging, since every patient and every circumstance is different, but given that it is getting easier and easier to get CT scans, we need to be cautious in weighing their risks and benefits,” Hsia said in a university news release.
Researchers looked at data on more than 8 million visits by adults to ERs in California. Patients were seen at 348 hospitals between 2005 and 2013. The visits were for non-serious injuries such as broken bones and neck strains. All of the patients were discharged after being seen in the ERs, the research showed.
The study revealed that 7 percent of the patients had at least one CT scan in 2013, compared to 3.5 percent in 2005.
CTs were used more in hospitals designated as high-level trauma centers. About 39 percent of the CTs in the study occurred at level I and II trauma centers, compared with 3 percent at low-level centers.
A disproportionate number of those who had a CT scan were between the ages of 18 and 24 or older than 45, the study authors said.
There are a number of reasons for the increasing use of CT scans on patients with non-serious injuries, the researchers said.
“They range from defensive medicine practices, the superior diagnostic accuracy of CT scans compared with X-rays, to their increased availability and convenience in emergency departments, and the demand to expedite discharge of patients,” Hsia said.
The study was published Jan. 19 in the Journal of Surgical Research.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more about CT scans and radiation risks.