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Full-Body CAT Scans Have Benefits, Risks Over Time

Posted September 20, 2004

— Full body CAT scans are popular because they spot tiny tumors and other problems other tests miss. A new study finds the level of radiation from the scans may cause other problems.

Bernie Deubel's physical is a full body CT scan, or CAT, scan.

Doctors do not expect to find anything. They just want to make sure they are not missing something.

"It certainly is a good tool for looking for things you might further investigate, to understand whether there's something wrong with you," he said.

At Duke Radiology, Dr. Nancy Major said CAT scans have a role to play in diagnosing medical conditions where physical exams fall short.

"It's a very fast way to get a physical exam, essentially," she said.

A new study in the Journal of Radiology found annual testing over 30 years exposes patients to radiation comparable to what some atomic blast survivors received during World War II in Japan.

One CAT scan is not of concernl; it is several scans over several years that could be a problem.

"You'd get such an exposure to radiation that it actually dramatically increases your chances of being diagnosed with a radiation-induced cancer," Major said.

Making CAT scans a routine way to spot problems may bring risks that outweigh the benefits, but Deubel said he will continue to get the scans.

The potential benefits of a CAT scan far outweigh the risks for adults who need the test to diagnose a problem.

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