Popular CT scans often create needless worries, researchers say

Associated Press
Dec. 4, 2002

CHICAGO - Full-body CT scans, widely promoted as a way to give peace of mind, frequently find harmless abnormalities that lead to invasive, anxiety-producing, follow-up tests, researchers say.

And the scans may be a waste of money for patients 40 and younger, who run a low risk of serious disease, they suggest.

The increasingly popular scans give doctors a view into the body from the neck to pelvis with CT scan machines. The scans typically are offered at for-profit centers, cost several hundred dollars and usually are not covered by insurance.

The researchers studied 1,192 patients ages 22 to 85 who had full-body scans at private, for-profit imaging centers. They presented their findings Tuesday in Chicago.

Forty-six percent of the scans showed abnormalities, most in the lungs, kidneys or liver. About 25 percent were suspected cancer; 15 percent were other significant ailments such as emphysema; and 1 percent were strongly believed to be cancer or some other life-threatening disease. Thirty-seven percent of the participants were advised to have follow-up tests.

No one younger than 45 had scan results that strongly suggested cancer, and patients younger than 40 had few findings requiring further tests, the researchers said.

Other research has shown that follow-up tests usually determine that scan-detected abnormalities are insignificant.

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