Background: The use of computed tomographic (CT) scans in the United States (US) has increased more than 3-fold since 1993 to approximately 70 million scans annually. Despite the great medical benefits, there is concern about the potential radiation-related cancer risk. We conducted detailed estimates of the future cancer risks from current CT scan use in the US according to age, sex, and scan type.
Methods: Risk models based on the National Research Council's "Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation" report and organ-specific radiation doses derived from a national survey were used to estimate age-specific cancer risks for each scan type. These models were combined with age- and sex-specific scan frequencies for the US in 2007 obtained from survey and insurance claims data. We estimated the mean number of radiation-related incident cancers with 95% uncertainty limits (UL) using Monte Carlo simulations.
Results: Overall, we estimated that approximately 29 000 (95% UL, 15 000-45 000) future cancers could be related to CT scans performed in the US in 2007. The largest contributions were from scans of the abdomen and pelvis (n = 14 000) (95% UL, 6900-25 000), chest (n = 4100) (95% UL, 1900-8100), and head (n = 4000) (95% UL, 1100-8700), as well as from chest CT angiography (n = 2700) (95% UL, 1300-5000). One-third of the projected cancers were due to scans performed at the ages of 35 to 54 years compared with 15% due to scans performed at ages younger than 18 years, and 66% were in females.
Conclusions: These detailed estimates highlight several areas of CT scan use that make large contributions to the total cancer risk, including several scan types and age groups with a high frequency of use or scans involving relatively high doses, in which risk-reduction efforts may be warranted.