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Health Team

Usefulness of CT scans called into question

Posted July 7, 2008 1:02 p.m. EDT
Updated July 7, 2008 6:35 p.m. EDT

While CT (computed tomography) scans offer the best view of the heart, some doctors say they might not be the most useful.

Dr. Stephen Siegel, a cardiologist at New York University Medical Center, looks at thousands of hearts a year. Siegel said he has not had a patient whose life was saved through a CT scan.

The scan combines a series of X-rays to create an image of a beating heart. They give doctors a clear look at a patient's arteries, which is useful when heart disease is suspected. However, if there is no sign of trouble, there isn’t much the scan can be used for, Siegel said.

“Why get the information if you're not going to do anything with it,” Siegel added.

The scan also exposes patients to large doses of radiation and can cost up to $2,000.

No known studies prove that CT scans are better than older screening methods, which include blood work-ups and stress tests.

Despite the lack of studies, more hospitals have invested in the technology. Each CT machine is estimated at $1 million. Some say the high price tag could be an incentive to use scans even when they're not really needed – like for general screenings.

“It’s a new technology. It's a wonderful test. The question is, we have to find the best applications for it,” Siegel said.

Doctors have CT scanned hundreds of thousands of patients and the number looks to increase over the next decade.