CT Scans and Cancer Risk

Rebecca Smith-Bindman, MD
October 30, 2014
· Cat Snyder, ASCO staff

A computed tomography (CT) scan, also called a CAT scan, is an imaging test used to detect cancer and find out where it is located, if or where it has spread, and whether it is affecting other parts of the body. Doctors may also recommend having CT scans during and after cancer treatment to find out if the treatment is working or to look for signs that cancer has come back.

Many people with cancer and cancer survivors are worried about the safety of repeated CT scanning because it uses a form of radiation. Like anything in life, or cancer treatment, there are risks and there are benefits.

In my experience, it was a CT scan that helped me get the treatment I needed. My diagnosis wasn’t cancer, but a CT scan helped doctors find an abnormality that needed immediate surgery. I’m grateful I didn’t hesitate to get the test because it helped the doctors know what was wrong.

In this podcast, Rebecca Smith-Bindman, MD, discusses the link between radiation exposure during CT scanning and the development of cancer. Dr. Smith-Bindman is a Professor of Radiology, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and Health Policy at the University of California San Francisco. Her job as a radiologist focuses on “how to maximize the benefits of imaging while minimizing the harm.”

 

Although the amount of radiation used in this test is minimal, it’s always important to be informed because the benefits don’t always outweigh the risks. If you have concerns, ask your health care team if having a CT scan is the best way to get the information they need or if there’s another test that could be used.