Harvard Men's Health Watch

Do CT scans cause cancer?

For older men the risk from diagnostic CT scans is relatively small.

By one estimate, Americans have more than 70 million CT scans every year. This raises a concern: The scans expose people to x-rays, and this so-called ionizing radiation can damage cells and lead to cancer down the road. But for older men, CT scanning does not present a great risk compared with the benefits of diagnostic scans.

"Radiation-related risk in anyone above 65 years of age from a diagnostic CT of the chest or abdomen is negligible to none," says Dr. Dushyant V. Sahani, associate professor at Harvard Medical School and director of CT imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital. "The doses are very low and the time it takes cancer to develop can be 20 years or more."

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