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Study cites cancer risk of full-body scans


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CHICAGO (AFP) - Full-body cat scans increase a person's risk of cancer, according to a study released that raises questions about the rising popularity of these screenings among healthy people.

Just one of these scans imparts a dose of radiation comparable to that received by some Japanese atomic-bomb survivors, while repeated annual screenings carry a significantly elevated lifetime cancer risk, the study said.

"Our research provides definitive evidence that radiation risk is associated with full-body CT (computed tomography) scans," said David Brenner, lead author of the study in the journal Radiology.

The study was prompted in part by the medical establishment's concern about the increase in the numbers of otherwise healthy or "asymptomatic" people seeking out these scans to diagnose diseases such as colon and lung cancer and coronary artery disease.

To asses the risk associated with the procedure, which is offered by boutique radiology clinics across the United States, Brenner and his colleagues compared data on Atomic-bomb cancer mortality with calculations of the radiation dose from a full-body scan.

They concluded that the dose from a single full-body CT is only slightly lower than the mean dose experienced by groups of Japanese citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who survived the 1945 A-bomb attacks.

Significant increases in cancer risk were seen in these groups of survivors.

The researchers said among otherwise healthy 45-year-olds, one full-body CT screening would typically cause a fatal form of cancer in one of 1,200 people.

Among 45-year-olds who had annual full-body CT scans for 30 years, the estimated mortality rate would be about one in 50, the study said.

"In addition to the radiation risks demonstrated in this report, elective full-body CT may provide false-positive findings when no disease exists,"said Brenner, who is professor of radiation oncology and public health at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.

"This typically involves more extensive testing, which is costly and stressful."

No studies have yet reported life-prolonging benefits to the procedure, he noted. The effective dose of radiation delivered during a full-body CT exam is nearly 100 times that of a typical screening mammogram, according to the paper.

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