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Cancer Risks from Heart and Atrial Fibrillation Procedures

Tracking Lifetime Risks from CT Scans and Radiation Exposure

December 5, 2008 8:26 AM CT

For quite some time we've heard about the cumulative risks of cancer due to radiation exposure during computed tomography, or CT scans. A new study projected that up to 7 per cent of patients studied had radiation exposure from CT scans sufficient to slightly raise their lifetime risk of cancer.

Researchers studied patients who had a CT scan in 2007 at Brigham and Women's Hospital or the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, both of which are affiliated with Harvard Medical School in Boston. Using a database of patient history, they calculated overall radiation exposure to determine a lifetime risk.

The goal is to develop computer alerts to inform doctors of cancer risk based on the patient's history of CT scans, thus allowing doctors to weigh the risk against the diagnostic value of a new scan.

CT scans are now widely-used in heart diagnostics, especially since they are faster and less-invasive than angiograms (catheterizations) for diagnosing heart blockages and other issues. But a typical CT scan delivers 50 to 100 times more radiation than a conventional X-ray. With 62 million CT scans in the U.S. each year, there are estimates that CT scans may account for up to 2 per cent of all cancers soon.

Read more: U.S. study weighs lifetime risks from CT scans

Every day I talk with folks who have had many heart procedures, and thus total exposure is something about which I've been very concerned. That's especially concerning with long radiation exposures from fluoroscopy during catheter ablations and related procedures. This was really brought home to me recently in a program that I did with an electrophysiologist and a surgeon where the EP talked about radiation burns from cumulative exposure.

Thus, it's worth paying close attention to the amount of radiation we receive. I hadn't even thought about adding that to the medical info card that I carry with me everywhere. You can bet that I will search my memory bank for my past radiation exposures so that I can share that info with doctors whenever new procedures are needed.

This is certainly worth keeping in mind for all of us who have, or have had, afib and/or heart disease. And our family members should be aware, too, as they are our advocates and caregivers during a health crisis.

--Mellanie True Hills

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Last Modified December 5, 2008

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