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Published on April 11, 2016

Low-dose CTs reduce radiation riskLow-dose CTs reduce radiation risk

CT or “CAT” scans provide doctors with multidimensional images of amazing clarity by shooting X-rays via a projector that revolves around a patient’s body. The images come at a cost, however, since the amount of radiation used in some U.S. health facilities can be hundreds of times that of a typical chest X-ray.

Concerned with minimizing patient exposure, Cape Cod Healthcare uses only “lower-dose” CT machines  augmented by software and staff practices to further limit dosage, said Salvatore G. Viscomi, MD.

Six new units were installed in Cape Cod Healthcare’s facilities on the past two years – two at Falmouth Hospital and four at Cape Cod Hospital.

“We’re using significantly decreased radiation doses than we were 5 to 10 years ago” said Dr. Viscomi. “We’re talking a fraction of what we used to do.”

The amount of radiation used in computed tomography (CT) scans varies with the patient’s body mass, and the organ or area being scanned, he explained. But, for a typical low-dose Chest CT scan used for lung cancer screening, the radiation exposure might be equivalent to five chest X-rays, or a year’s exposure to natural background radiation (not including exposure to sunlight or from air travel). Even that small amount “is not insignificant,” he said.

Radiation Exposure Concerns

The CT machines’ precision allows technicians to better contain radiation to the area being examined.

Radiation exposure remains a concern because it can damage cells and result in cancer or mutations, particularly in the pediatric population. But according to the federal Food and Drug Administration, that risk “is thought to be very small for radiation doses of the magnitude that are associated with CT procedure,” and estimates of the risk “have a broad range of statistical uncertainty.”

The FDA places the risk of eventually developing a fatal cancer from a CT dose of 10 mSv (millisieverts) at 1 in 2,000. The agency compares this with the one in five risk in the U.S. population of dying of cancer.

“We’re continuing to look at our protocols to continue to reduce radiation,” said Dr. Viscomi. “I’m really aggressive in pushing the envelope as low as they can go.”

How Much Exposure Do You Get?

According to the American College of Radiology and the Radiological Society of North America, CT scans range from 1.5 to 20 mSv, depending upon the procedure. These organizations estimate a 3 mSv CT scan exposure as equivalent to a year’s worth of natural radiation.

The CT machines Cape Cod hospitals use software programs to limit exposure while improving images, as just reducing radiation alone can result in grainy images, said Dr. Viscomi. The program removes “noise” from the data and creates a clear image. Another program lessens the amount of radiation directed toward the front of a patient’s body.