On Monday, October 8, 2012, the journal Pediatrics published a report that was conducted between 1998 and 2008. The study observed practices by emergency room physicians across the country, namely the ways in which physicians examine and treat children who complain of belly pain.
Physicians are concerned that children may have appendicitis, so they sometimes order a computed tomography scan (CT scan). The study discovered a dramatic increase in the use of CT scans, although the rate of appendicitis has not increased. The use of traditional x-rays, ultrasounds, and other forms of medical imaging also has not changed.
CT scans have become a popular form of x-ray scans. Unlike other forms of medical imaging, CT scans “offer doctors a high-resolution peek into the body.” CT scans offer an advantage for doctors, for physicians are better able to detect internal irregularities and problems not otherwise detected. Despite these advantages, CT scans also pose a concern for the risk of cancer in the future.
A person who gets two or three scans can damage cells, thereby increasing their risk for cancer. The problem is particularly troubling, now that children are getting more CT scans. The report, however, indicates that individual risks are very small.
CT scans among this population between 1998 and 2008 have risen from less than 1% to over 15%. Dr. Jahan Fahimi led the study. Dr. Fahimi explained that one in every six or seven children who complain of bellyaches in the emergency room will get a CT scan. The rise in CT scans, however, has not been linked to better care and treatment. The correlation between the two is still unknown.
Dr. Fahimi notes that the rise in CT scans may correlate with doctors’ fears of malpractice lawsuits—for example, conducting surgery for appendicitis when the patient does not have appendicitis or misdiagnosing the patient as not having appendicitis.
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