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Cancer Risk from CT Chest Scans
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Cancer Risk from CT Chest Scans

This is a follow-up to Eccentric Guy's concerns posted last March.  I am a 57-year old guy who had thyroid cancer surgery (thyroidectomy) when I was 54.  (No signs of thyroid cancer recurrence at this point.)

In October 2006 I had a chest CT because I'm a former heavy smoker.  The radiologist noted what he considered two small benign nodules.  To be certain they were benign, I had a follow-up CT scan 3 months later, a third follow-up CT scan another 3-months later and a 4th CT scan 6 months later.  A total of 4 CT chest scans in one year (October 2006 - October 2007).  The nodes haven't changed and are probably benign.  I feel stupid because until now I didn't realize how much radiation I was getting...I didn't do my research in advance.  Something like 12 years worth of normal background radiation from those 4 tests!  The equivalent of a total of 400 chest X-rays!  (And to think I have routinely turned down dental X-rays.)

Can anybody comment on what their research indicates my risk is from getting cancer from these 4 CT scans?  (I didn't mention I had an earlier one in early 2005, so I really have a total of 5 CT scans "under my belt").

Thanks a lot, community.  
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You can compare the specifics from your CT scans to the following information (i can't tell you how much radiation you recieved, you have to find out from the radiologist since different scans use different levels of radiation)

this is from the CDC site on this page:
http://www.fda.gov/cdrh/ct/risks.html

Risk Estimates

In the field of radiation protection, it is commonly assumed that the risk for adverse health effects from cancer is proportional to the amount of radiation dose absorbed and the amount of dose depends on the type of x-ray examination. A CT examination with an effective dose of 10 millisieverts (abbreviated mSv; 1 mSv = 1 mGy in the case of x rays.) may be associated with an increase in the possibility of fatal cancer of approximately 1 chance in 2000. This increase in the possibility of a fatal cancer from radiation can be compared to the natural incidence of fatal cancer in the U.S. population, about 1 chance in 5. In other words, for any one person the risk of radiation-induced cancer is much smaller than the natural risk of cancer. Nevertheless, this small increase in radiation-associated cancer risk for an individual can become a public health concern if large numbers of the population undergo increased numbers of CT screening procedures of uncertain benefit.

It must be noted that there is uncertainty regarding the risk estimates for low levels of radiation exposure as commonly experienced in diagnostic radiology procedures. There are some that question whether there is adequate evidence for a risk of cancer induction at low doses. However, this position has not been adopted by most authoritative bodies in the radiation protection and medical arenas.

Diagnostic Procedure: Chest x ray (PA film)

Typical Effective Dose (mSv): 0.02 (Effective dose in millisieverts (mSv)

Time Period for Equivalent Effective Dose from Natural Background Radiation : 2.4 days  (Based on the assumption of an average "effective dose" from natural background radiation of 3 mSv per year in the United States.)


Dr. Enoch Choi, MD
Palo Alto, CA

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