I Repeat, Our Doctors Are Killing Us

by Joy Tomme

An Op/Ed piece in the New York Times this morning (“We Are Giving Ourselves Cancer”) reports that the increased and unnecessary use of high-dose radiation in hospitals has gone off the charts in the last 20 years. The article says that, “The radiation doses of CT scans are 100 to 1,000 times higher than conventional X-rays…but there is distressingly little evidence of better health outcomes associated with the current high rate of scans…there is, however, evidence of its harms…CT scanners were once rare, but now many Americans undergo a CT scan every year and many get more than one.”

A telling, though woefully underplayed sentence follows: “CT scanners cost millions of dollars; having made that investment, purchasers are strongly incentivized to use them.” Also, we are told, the growth is a result of multiple facts, including a desire for early diagnosis, but “direct-to-consumer advertising and the financial interests of doctors and imaging centers” is a huge factor.

A 2009 study from the National Cancer Institute estimated that CT scans conducted in 2007 would cause 29,000 excess cancer cases and 14,500 excess deaths over the lifetime of those exposed. It is impossible to know how much that estimate has increased over the last 6 six of monumentally increased use of CT scans, but the NYT says it is probably in the hundreds of thousands.

A shocking bit of data in the article is that “emergency room physicians routinely order multiple CT scans even before meeting a patient…such practices, for which there is little or no evidence of benefit, should be eliminated.”

The article goes on to report that, “We know that these tests are overused. But even when they are appropriately used, they are not always done in the safest ways possible…there are no specific guidelines for what these doses are, and there is considerable variation within and between institutions. The dose at one hospital can be as much as 50 times stronger than at another.”

The NYT ends with a salubrious, weasel-worded send-off: “Neither doctors nor patients want to return to the days before CT scans. But we need to find ways to use them without killing people in the process.”

What we really need are doctors and hospitals that have a prime interest in their patients and not a prime interest in making money. Our doctors not only have gotten into bed with the pharmaceutical industry and are prescribing unnecessary and/or dangerous drugs when a drug firm pays them to do so…OUR DOCTORS ARE KILLING US.