Monitoring cystic fibrosis lung disease by computed tomography. Radiation risk in perspective

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2014 Jun 1;189(11):1328-36. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201311-2099CI.


Computed tomography (CT) is a sensitive technique to monitor structural changes related to cystic fibrosis (CF) lung disease. It detects structural pulmonary abnormalities such as bronchiectasis and trapped air, at an early stage, before they become apparent with other diagnostic tests. Clinical decisions may be influenced by knowledge of these abnormalities. CT imaging, however, comes with risk related to ionizing radiation exposure. The aim of this review is to discuss the risk of routine CT imaging in patients with CF, using current models of radiation-induced cancer, and to put this risk in perspective with other medical and nonmedical risks. The magnitude of the risk is a complex, controversial matter. Risk analyses have largely been based on a linear no-threshold model, and excess relative and excess absolute risk estimates have been derived mainly from atomic bomb survivors. The estimates have large confidence intervals. Our risk estimates are in concordance with previously reported estimates. A large proportion of radiation to which humans are exposed is from natural background sources and varies widely depending on geographical location. The risk differences due to variation in background radiation can be larger than the risks associated with CF lung disease monitoring by CT. We conclude that the risk related to routine usage of CT in clinical care is small. In addition, a life-limiting disease, such as CF, lowers the risk of radiation-induced cancer. Nonetheless, the use of CT should always be justified and the radiation dose should be kept as low as reasonably achievable.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bronchiectasis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Bronchiectasis / etiology
  • Child
  • Cystic Fibrosis / complications
  • Cystic Fibrosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Monitoring, Physiologic
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / etiology
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / prevention & control*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed* / adverse effects