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Posted: April 28, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Safety of high tech scanners considered by FDA

This week the U.S. Federal Drug Administration is hearing proposals for changing the ways that high tech medical scanning techniques are used. There is a growing concern that Americans are exposed to too much radiation by these new imaging technologies, such as CT scans and fluoroscopy. The agency is looking for ways to get the manufacturers of these devices to maintain higher standards and increase the amount of training required to operate the equipment

The FDA’s objective is to help reduce unnecessary exposure to radiation. These imaging tools are two of the top three contributors to total radiation exposure among Americans and use much higher doses than standard X-rays, dental X-rays and mammography. The radiation from a CT scan of the abdomen equals that of about 400 chest X-rays, and a dental X-ray has about half the radiation of a chest X-ray, according to the FDA. This amount of radiation is considered to increase the lifetime risk of getting cancer. Additionally, accidental radiation exposure can result in burns, hair loss and cataracts.

Dr. Jorge Guerra Jr, a professor of radiology at the University of Miami School of Medicine, declared that there is an overuse of CT scans. He encourages wise use of the equipment, high standards of manufacturing, clear guidelines for their use, specific criteria for who should be scanned and a higher level of training for operators. "Yes, there is an increased risk of cancer in the general population from the overuse of radiation," he said. "Let’s work on cutting down on the overuse of radiation — not cutting out the technology."

About 70 million CT scans are now done in the United States each year according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute. In the early 1980s, only 3 million were done annually. The institute also estimates that up to 14,000 people die every year from radiation-induced cancers. "The amount of radiation Americans are exposed to from medical imaging has dramatically increased over the past 20 years," stated Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. He went to say, "The goal of FDA’s initiative is to support the benefits associated with medical imaging while minimizing the risks."

In February, the FDA noted that the benefits of medical imaging were considerable because they’ve led to disease being diagnosed earlier, allowing better treatment options, including "image-guided therapies that help save lives every day." But to keep radiation exposure to a minimum, the agency asked that doctors and patients keep two principles in mind: that each procedure must be justified and that the radiation be given at the minimum dose required. Experts continue to debate the extent of a cancer risk radiation poses, but most experts agree that exposure to unnecessary radiation from these devices should be reduced.

Dr. C. Kirven Weekley is a clinical psychologist with offices in Covington and Norcross. He specializes in the evaluation and treatment of adults for depression, anxiety, relationship problems and medical issues. He can be reached at (770) 441-9244.

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