News Release

REF NO.: 46

SUBJECT: To scan or not to scan: Balance benefits and harms by choosing CT scans wisely

DATE: February 1, 2018

In Newfoundland and Labrador, more computed tomography (CT or CAT) scans are conducted per person than anywhere else in Canada.

In fact, a 2015 survey of medical imaging across Canada revealed that residents of this province receive almost 50 per cent more CT scans than the national average.

Important tool, but not risk-free

CT scanning is an important tool that helps physicians diagnose cancers and other conditions. However, the scans can carry their own risks.

The Quality of Care N.L./Choosing Wisely N.L. initiative at Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine is urging members of the public to talk to their physicians about testing options and use caution when health issues arise.

“A CT scan works by putting together a series of x-rays taken from different angles,” said Dr. Patrick Parfrey, clinical leader, Quality of Care N.L./Choosing Wisely N.L. “When indicated by the patient’s condition, it is a very good diagnostic test.”

However, Dr. Parfrey says that a single chest scan can mean up to 70 times as much radiation as a chest x-ray. Exposure to unnecessary radiation may increase cancer risk. Therefore, it is important to balance the benefits and harms when deciding to have a CT scan.


Use caution

An Australian study that followed almost 11 million adolescents and children over a 20-year period revealed that the 680,000 patients who received CT scans had an almost 24 per cent increased risk of developing cancer. The Australian researchers found they could link one new cancer to every 1,800 CT scans.

Dr. Parfrey says that CT scanning is a vital diagnostic tool that helps save lives, but health-care providers and patients should always be cautious about over-testing, especially when the risk of harm is present.

“If you think you need a CT scan, you should discuss it with your doctor and decide together if that’s the right test for you,” he said.

As part of a Quality of Care N.L./Choosing Wisely N.L. awareness campaign, physicians throughout the province will receive an information package and tools, including posters and discussion aids, to help them better explain the risks and benefits of CT scanning to their patients.

Curious to know more about CT scanning? A poster is now available online for easy access.

For more information about Quality of Care N.L./Choosing Wisely N.L. and the latest campaigns, please visit here.


About Quality of Care N.L./Choosing Wisely N.L.

Quality of Care N.L./Choosing Wisely N.L. is a program to help improve the quality of care patients receive in our province by ensuring that the right treatments get to the right patients at the right time. It is an educational initiative seeking to more efficiently match a patient’s medical needs with the most appropriate type of care that is safest for the patient. For each initiative and outreach program, Quality of Care N.L./Choosing Wisely N.L. has identified key areas of risk and will work towards improving, through the supply of educational resources, the appropriate use of testing and treatment in those areas. The program officially launched in October 2016.


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