Unnecessary Medical Imaging Increases Breast Cancer Risk

Posted by The Evidence Blog on July 19, 2012

Not only is unnecessary medical imaging one of the drivers of out-of-control healthcare spending, according to a report issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), radiation exposure from medical imaging can be linked to a small but real increased risk of breast cancer. The findings of the IOM report were detailed in an article published on June 11, 2012, in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Hayes, Inc. brought attention to the issue of overuse of medical imaging and the concerns about radiation overexposure in a webinar that we conducted in March 2011. That webinar is archived in the webinar library on our website, where you can listen to it and download the handout at your convenience.

Computed tomography (CT) scans and other forms of medical imaging have revolutionized medicine and can be life saving; however, the use of such imaging has increased dramatically over the past 20 years. In the United States today, approximately 75 million CT scans are performed each year, nearly half in women. Concerns about imaging overuse and radiation overexposure in hospitals have prompted physician, consumer, and government groups to demand better guidelines and regulation of medical imaging and radiation overexposure. The recommendations in the IOM report reflect an awareness of the overuse of CT and recommend avoiding unnecessary medical imaging as one way to reduce women’s risk of breast cancer.

As with any medical test or procedure, patients and providers must carefully weigh the risks versus the benefits. When it comes to medical imaging, women should engage their doctors in the decision-making process and insist that all radiological scans that they undergo are necessary and safe.
The author of the journal article suggests that patients ask their doctors the following types of questions:

  • Is this scan absolutely necessary?
  • Is it necessary to do it now?
  • Are there other, alternative tests?
  • How can I be sure the test will be done in the safest way possible?
  • Will having the scan information change the management of my disease?
  • Can I wait until after seeing a specialist before getting the scan?

Beyond eliminating unnecessary testing, the author calls for a strategy to reduce the radiation doses delivered during imaging examinations and additional educational programs that will inform physicians about radiation doses and the cancer risk attributable to medical images. As well, outcomes research for imaging is sorely needed.

Topics: Hayes Blog

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