Harvard Men's Health Watch

Sharp rise seen in use of diagnostic scans

Use of diagnostic imaging has risen sharply since the 1990s, exposing some people to "high" or "very high" doses of radiation, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers studied records of diagnostic scans conducted from 1996 to 2010. Use of ultrasound grew by 4% annually. CT use grew by 8%, MRI by 10%, and PET by 57%.

Because CT and PET scans involve exposure to radiation, their increased use raises a potential safety issue. A CT scan of the chest delivers an amount of radiation equivalent to that of 200 chest x-rays. That means after just 10 chest CT scans, a person can reach his or her safe lifetime limit of radiation exposure, according to the American College
of Radiology.

Diagnostic imaging procedures are often essential for making a diagnosis, but it's still wise to consider the need for each scan and discuss it with your doctor. Even tests that do not involve radiation exposure have potential downsides. These include higher healthcare costs as well as "false positive" results indicating a problem that—with further testing—turns out to be nothing.

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