Medical procedures involving radiation, especially from CT scans, could increase cancer risks for dialysis patients. A new study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology advises that doctors consider scaling back the number of diagnostic CT scans they order for dialysis patients.
This study, conducted by researchers at the University Hospital “Maggiore della CaritÃ,” in Novara, Italy, followed a group of 106 dialysis patients for an average of three years and calculated their radiation exposure from hospital records. On average, patients received the equivalent of approximately 1000 chest radiograms per year. While only 19 percent of the procedures were CT scans, they accounted for 76 percent of total radiation dose.
The researchers also found that 22 patients received low doses of radiation each year, 51 received moderate doses, 22 received high doses, and 11 received very high doses. Seventeen patients were exposed to radiation at levels associated with a substantial increase in risk for cancer-related death. Younger patients and those awaiting kidney transplants received the highest doses.
In a statement announcing the study’s findings, one of its authors pointed out that a significant number – about 60 percent – of examinations resulted in non-notable findings or in negative results. This, the authors said, is indicative of a need for a more stringent process to justify CT referral.
“These findings emphasize the need to begin tracking at least the CT-related exposure to develop and implement alternative strategies to reduce patient-specific radiation burden,” Marco Brambilla, Ph.D. said.
CT scans have become popular because they offer a quick, relatively cheap way to get three-dimensional pictures that give an almost surgical view of the body. In many instances, radiation-based procedures like CT scans are replacing tests that don’t require radiation, such as ultrasound and MRI.
As we’ve reported in the past, the amount of radiation Americans receive as a result of CT scans and other medical imaging has grown sixfold over the last couple of decades. One CT chest scan carries as much radiation as nearly 400 chest X-rays, according to government officials. Many kidney disease patients on dialysis suffer from other illnesses that require them to undergo radiation procedures for diagnosis and treatment. This means patients can receive high doses of radiation over an extended period of time, which can increase their risk of developing cancer.