General Question

Reggz's avatar

Are my doctors wrong for doing this?

Asked by Reggz (149 points ) June 3rd, 2012

In the past 6 months, I have had about 6 CT scans of various parts of my body. I have a (benign) brain tumor and cyclical cushing’s disease and my doctors insist that these scans are necessary in order to get the correct diagnosis, treatment protocol, etc. I am very worried about the risks from being exposed to the radiation emitted during one of these scans. I get varying answers from anyone I ask, ranging from no, the risk of cancer from x-rays is quite low.. to “getting two or three CT scans of the abdomen expose you to the same amount of radiation as people who lived near the atomic blast that ravaged Hiroshima…” Obviously, when I hear that… it freaks me out. I’ve had TONS of CT scans in my lifetime. I am also a cancer survivor and I’ve been exposed to high-dose radiation from my treatment. Am I a ticking time bomb? I feel now that I’m bound to get cancer again. Should I refuse more of these tests?

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13 Answers

AshLeigh's avatar

You need the tests to be diagnosed, don’t you?
Who have you been asking? You should talk to your doctor about any concerns you might be having, and the risks of the tests they’re running.

filmfann's avatar

I am sure the amount of radiation you have been exposed to is less than those at Hiroshima.
Next time you are in one of their machines, look to see if you left a shadow.

Regarding the necessity of it: trust your doctors. They have been through this dance.
Anyway, trust them more than anonymous people online.

josie's avatar

Everything is a give and take. You can’t have it both ways. If you want a diagnosis and treatment plan, you have to submit to the fact finding tests. If you are worried about the downside of testing, simply refuse and take your chances on a treatment without all the information.
Pretty simple IMHO

bewailknot's avatar

Getting medical advice from non-medical people is not really a good idea. That said, have you asked your doctor what would have been done for diagnosis before CT was available? Would it have been impossible to make a diagnosis back then?

wundayatta's avatar

In an area like this, where technology and science is changing rapidly, it’s really hard to assess to risk. It sounds like you have asked a variety of medical professionals and gotten a range of answers. I’m afraid this means that it comes down to you to figure it out.

You need to do your own research. Reach the latest articles about how much radiation is in CT scans and read the latest studies about how much of a risk this level of radiation is. Then you have to decide for yourself. I wish it could be easier.

You need to also weigh the risk of cancer from CT scans, compared to other risks you face for the diseases you have. It’s very complex, and no one else can tell you what is best for you, I’m afraid. You have to knuckle down and do the work to answer this question yourself.

And even if there were an expert here, they couldn’t answer the question for you. You are a unique individual and you have a story no one else here knows. Only you can decide for yourself.

gailcalled's avatar

I stalled and stalled on having my knees ex-rayed and thus farted around with antibiotics for possible Lyme disease (it turned out not to be the case) and some weeks of PT and then regular stretches (this turned out to be a good thing, also). But, lo and behold, ultimately I had the knees filmed.

It is a delicate balance, I know.

JLeslie's avatar

I am not a doctor.

I think you have asked a few questions about CT scans. Everything I have read says scans of the abodomen and pelvis does deliver quite a bit of radiation relative to scans of other areas of the body. One abdomen being like 5 head scans. A simple xray is nothing like getting CT scans. Scans are like multiple xrays at once. An xray might have the equivalent of 5 days of normal background radiation delivered in that two seconds (depending on the part of the body and the xray) while a CT scan can be 8 months to 5 years of background radiation in those 20 seconds (it varies depending on part of the body and how the machine is set, etc.).

Some people naturally have more exposure than others in every day life. Pilots have a lot of exposure compared to the average population being closer to the sun for many more hours.

Doctors I speak to vary from totally dismissing my concerns of radiation exposure by xray and scan, to other doctors saying that the concern is warranted. One doctor said to me yesterday when I told him how upset I was about having my head to pelvis scanned in the ER after an accident that the “doctors were just being lazy. You never want a CT scan unless you really need it.” He is a neurosurgeon. Another friend who is head of brain tumour research at the facility he works was not happy about all my scans either, but he said not to be concerned at this point. My girlfriend in the accident had a CT scan in the ER where they found a 5 inch skull fracture, but then didn’t do an MRI where they would have found her subdural hemotoma most likely. Instead they wound up doing 5 CT scans of her head over a two week stay, only finding her brain bleed while she had already been hospitalized for 5 days. None of us, including the neuro doctors we know here in town can understand why the hpspital doctors did not do the MRI in the hospital. I only tell you this, because sometimes there are other options, but doctors just do what they always do.

Your situation is different than the ER and hospital experience though. You have a diagnosis that maybe the risk of radiation exposure from scans is worth finding something concerning in your body in an early stage? I don’t know enough about your condition. If they do the scans to determine your treatment, it seems they probably are necessary, but certainly you can get another opinion, or specifically ask how your treatment will be different if your scans are different? Sometimes doctors do tests just to know what is going on, but the treatment stays the same. If your treatment would stay the same, then why is the test necessary? If your treatment does change then it makes sense to scan I would think.

If I were you I definitely would get a second opinion of the necessity, I would ask if MRI can be effective in diagnosis as well (MRI does not have radiation). MRI does not see everything that CT scans can detect and vice versa, but there is some crossover. Maybe if you ask about the necessity you will get a more informative response than just voicing your fear about the scans. I find doctors who already in their mind have decided a test is not harmful, once they hear a patient worry or disagree with that, the doctor kind of shuts down and just thinks you are reading too much crap on the internet and being a pain. Sucks but true. Although, in my experience oncologists tend to be much better with their patients in than other specialities in discussing concerns.

Can you speak directly to a radiologist? They usually know the information better about radiation and scans better than the average doctor.

You can’t do anything about the scans you have had, but you can try to control what scans you have in the future. Not that you should just refuse them, but be given all the information you need to decide if one is necessary at that time or not.

Mariah's avatar

Here’s a cool chart. The person who made this isn’t an authority on the subject, but he got help from an expert while making it.

With a little analysis of the chart I found that the smallest amount of radiation correlated with increased cancer risk is over 14 times the amount of radiation from a chest CT. And head scans expose you to much less radiation.

If you’re really worried, in the future you can ask your doctor if an MRI might be possible instead. MRIs do not put out radiation, and often times they can achieve the same ends as a CT, but are not used because they are much more expensive for the hospital than the CT.

JLeslie's avatar

@Mariah Yes, but look at abdomen and pelvis CT’s on the table on this link. Everything I have read says the abdomen and pelvis get a huger dose than head and chest. The lowest I have seen is double for one or the other, and up to five times, depending on the article. And, I would bet money a lot of doctors don’t know. They see one CT the same as another, and they overall think they are safe.

Reggz's avatar

Just want to clarify, it’s not random people I’ve asked… it’s each of my doctors – everyone has a different response. So I don’t know what to think. But thank you for your answers :)

JLeslie's avatar

@Reggz Yeah, that is where I was at in my answer, doctors don’t agree. My feeling is the ones who are dissmissive about the risk are the ones who are not well informed. Still, sometimes the risk is worth it because of what they are doing the scan before.

I still think ask if there are other tests like MRI that can be used instead of CT. That way you are not asking if the CT has risk, you are just insisting on another option if there is a choice, your perogative. Sometimes insurance won’t cover MRI well, but usually they do.

chewhorse's avatar

If the doctor(s) aren’t blithering idiots and approx thirty days have lapsed between scans (as you said the length of time is) then their protecting your interests as best they can.. Who, as a regular citizen, knows what effects and doesn’t effect certain people but on the whole, a doctor does. If your going to trust him/her with your life then you should trust completely.. If you have doubts then get a second and even a third opinion.

CWOTUS's avatar

@Reggz it’s not the doctors that you’re being warned against so much in this thread as “us”. We are the random anonymous strangers, even as well-meaning as we are.

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