An increasing number of publications and international reports on computed tomography (CT) have addressed important issues on optimised imaging practice and patient dose. This is partially due to recent technological developments as well as to the striking rise in the number of CT scans being requested. CT imaging has extended its role to newer applications, such as cardiac CT, CT colonography, angiography and urology. The proportion of paediatric patients undergoing CT scans has also increased. The published scientific literature was reviewed to collect information regarding effective dose levels during the most common CT examinations in adults and paediatrics. Large dose variations were observed (up to 32-fold) with some individual sites exceeding the recommended dose reference levels, indicating a large potential to reduce dose. Current estimates on radiation-related cancer risks are alarming. CT doses account for about 70% of collective dose in the UK and are amongst the highest in diagnostic radiology, however the majority of physicians underestimate the risk, demonstrating a decreased level of awareness. Exposure parameters are not always adjusted appropriately to the clinical question or to patient size, especially for children. Dose reduction techniques, such as tube-current modulation, low-tube voltage protocols, prospective echocardiography-triggered coronary angiography and iterative reconstruction algorithms can substantially decrease doses. An overview of optimisation studies is provided. The justification principle is discussed along with tools that assist clinicians in the decision-making process. There is the potential to eliminate clinically non-indicated CT scans by replacing them with alternative examinations especially for children or patients receiving multiple CT scans.
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