Cancer Risk of CT Scans


Every year, Americans are exposed to potentially unsafe levels of DNA-altering radiation through medical imaging such as CT scans.

An astonishing 72 million CT scans are performed annually in the United States, which is about one scan for every four people in the country each year.1

Why is this so troubling? Because the radiation in that CT scan can increase your risk of cancer.

National Cancer Institute researchers now estimate that those 72 million CT scans could account for roughly 29,000 future cancer cases each year!1 Another way of looking at this figure is that for roughly every 400 to 2,000 routine chest CT scans, one new case of cancer occurs.1

And, by some estimates, up to 44% of CT scans done in this country each year are medically unnecessary.2


CT Scans Boost Cancer Risk


After years of overlooking the potential risks of medical imaging, mainstream physicians are finally beginning to acknowledge the dangers of these radiation-based diagnostic tools.

In 2013, a scientific consensus was reached that even just one CT scan in childhood is linked to the risk of developing future cancers. Of course, cancer risk estimates for individuals must also include other criteria like specifics of exposure, age at exposure, and absorbed dose to certain tissues.3

This consensus was likely triggered by a deeply disturbing 2013 study published in the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ).4

The researchers behind that study followed approximately 11 million individuals from birth in the 1980s into young adulthood, identifying over 680,000 who had at least one CT scan during that period. They compared the cancer rate in this extremely large group of patients with an equally large, matched group who were never exposed to a CT scan.

The results were alarming.

The study found that those who had undergone CT scans in their childhood had a 24% increased risk for developing any cancer, compared with those who didn't have scans.4 They also found that the more scans a person had, the greater the risk of developing cancer.

The risk persisted for years after the original scan was completed, producing cancer risks, compared with unexposed individuals, which were:4

  • 35%higher in the first four years following exposure

  • 25%higher at five to nine years

  • 14%higher at 10 to 14 years

Even 15 or more years following the first exposure to this level of ionizing radiation, cancer risks remained stubbornly elevated by 24%.

Virtually every kind of cancer was documented to occur in excess in the CT-exposed group, including solid tumors (digestive organs, skin, ovary/uterus, urinary tract, brain, and thyroid), leukemia (blood cancer), lymphomas, and other cancers.4

  1. Storrs C. Do CT scans cause cancer? Sci Am. 2013 Jul;309(1):30-2.

  2. Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health. Radiation Emissions from Computed Tomography: A Review of the Risk of Cancer and Guidelines. Ottawa ON: 2014.

  3. Westra SJ. The communication of the radiation risk from CT in relation to its clinical benefit in the era of personalized medicine: part 1: the radiation risk from CT. Pediatr Radiol. 2014 Oct;44 Suppl 3:515-8.

  4. Mathews JD, Forsythe AV, Brady Z, et al. Cancer risk in 680,000 people exposed to computed tomography scans in childhood or adolescence: data linkage study of 11 million Australians. 2013;346:f2360.


Life Extensions 2015


Dr. Tent and I always say that those who have the best medical insurance tend to be the ones who are most over-medicated and over-tested. Are we totally against medical imaging? No. Are there ways to protect yourself from the effects of harmful radiation? Yes. First and foremost, boosting your antioxidant levels to prevent DNA damage is key. The second step would be to counteract the dyes that are used in certain studies. Most of these dyes are filtered through the liver or kidneys, therefore it is common to see blood work factors be displaced by these dyes. Bottom line is always to weigh the risks versus the benefits.


Dr. J

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