Treatment costs of CT-related cancers could reach $2.6 billion over 10 years

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Despite the many benefits of CT imaging—early diagnosis, enhanced diagnostic accuracy, improved outcomes, etc.—a small number of cancers resulting from patient exposure to radiation from CT scans can have a big financial impact on treatment costs, according to results of a study recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Roentgen Ray Society.

Researchers from the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson searched for these hidden costs by analyzing data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and results from published literature to estimate cancer treatment costs stemming from CT scans in 2012.

Their results revealed a probable lifetime cancer risk of 5.5 cases per 10,000 and approximately 85 million CT scans over the course of a year, resulting in an estimated 46,750 additional cancers over the lifetime of the scanned population. These CT-related cancers would equate to a cost of $244–$263 million annually or $2.44–$2.63 billion over a decade, the researchers concluded.

“Although the benefits of medical imaging are substantial and include prolonged health and increased survival on the basis of early and accurate diagnoses, the small rate of induced cancers attributable to CT has a large and hidden financial cost that may amount to billions of dollars over several years,” the authors wrote in the study abstract. “Efforts to minimize patient radiation exposure from medical imaging, such as using new CT technology that significantly lowers patient doses, may result in significant cost savings and should be incentivized.”