Getting CT Scans You Need and Avoiding Those You Don’t

In recent decades many improvements have been made in diagnostic imaging with tests such as CT scans.  They help doctors diagnose serious disease and enable you to receive appropriate treatment.  You can partner with your doctor to ensure you receive only the tests that will benefit you.

Q. Are CT scans performed that are not medically necessary?

A. Yes, there is growing agreement among physicians that CT scans are performed too often and expose patients to radiation unnecessarily. Up to one-third of CT scans performed each year in the U.S. may not be unnecessary.

Q. What are the risks?

A. There is an increased risk of cancer from exposure to radiation from a CT scan although the risk from a single test is relatively low. Still, a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine projected that 29,000 future cancers will occur because of CT scans performed each year.

Q. When should you have a CT scan?

A. You should have a CT scan if there is a good medical reason. The benefits of the test should be balanced against the risks from exposure to radiation. A CT scan is unnecessary if it won’t make a difference in your treatment. In some cases, an MRI or ultrasound may be an appropriate alternative and they don’t involve radiation exposure.

Q. What can palliative care do to help avoid unnecessary CT scans?

A. The palliative care team will spend as much time as you need to discuss your personal goals for care. Through close communication with you and your family they will help you better understand treatment and test options. In this way, palliative care can help you receive the tests you need and avoid those you don’t.

Q. What can you do to avoid an unnecessary CT scan?

A. Keep track of the CT scans you have had. Tell your doctor about them. You can also learn about the radiation exposure from common diagnostic imaging tests by visiting

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