Pros, Cons and Side Effects of a CT Scan What are the Benefits of a CT Scan?

  • Widely available
  • Generally a quick procedure
  • Painless
  • Reasonably priced
  • Shows bone changes better than any other scanning method
  • Only method that provides detailed images of bone, soft tissue, blood vessels
  • Can detect life-threatening conditions
What are the risks of a CT scan?
  • Exposure to radiation

CT scans require some exposure to radiation. Radiation exposure is known to potentially increase the risk of cancer. However, patients should note that this risk is far outweighed by the benefits that can be achieved with a CT scan. This is especially true for patients who are suspected or known to already have cancer. A CT scan could mean the difference between stopping the disease in its tracks, or letting it spread throughout the body. A CT scan is also very useful in planning treatment for certain diseases, including cancer.

Radiation dose from CT scans varies from patient to patient. A particular radiation dose will depend on the size of the body part examined, the type of procedure, and the type of CT equipment and its operation.

  • Allergic reaction to contrast material

The most common “side effect” of a CT scan is an allergic reaction to the contrast material. These reactions usually result from the iodine in the contrast material. Typically, the effects of iodine include a “flushed” feeling throughout the body, a metallic taste in the mouth, and possible itchiness on various parts of the body. In rare cases, more severe allergic reactions can occur, and range from bumps or hives on the skin to shortness of breath and swelling of the throat. Newer contrast materials pose less risk of an allergic reaction. If you know you have had adverse reactions to iodine in the past, tell you doctor. He or she may decide to use a newer material instead.

  • Misinterpreted test results

Test results come back as either normal or abnormal. Tests returned as “abnormal” always require follow-up tests that may pose additional risks. Risks can include the possibility of cancer from extra radiation exposure. As well, these tests may be invasive (that is, they may require surgical incision). If the “abnormal” interpretation is incorrect, these tests, and the risks associated with them, will have put the patient at risk for no reason.

  • Limitations

Not all diseases and medical conditions can be identified by a CT scan. For example, hypertension and diabetes must be tested by blood pressure and blood sugar analysis, respectively. For this reason, CT scans are ineffective as “general check-up” methods and should only be used when a specific condition in a specific region of the body is suspected.

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