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Newer CT scanners drastically reduce the amount of radiation exposure for patients, according to a new study that involved nine sites in the United States and Saudi Arabia.

The researchers compared radiation exposure from first-generation 64-slice single-source and dual-source scanners to that from the new generation of 128-slice dual-source scanners with high-pitch capability. The newer machines reduced overall dosage by 61 percent for patients having diagnostic scans for coronary artery disease, pulmonary embolism, or aortic disease, with no significant difference in image quality.

Kavitha M. Chinnaiyan, MD, is lead author of an article about the findings in the May-June issue of the Journal of Cardiovascular Computed Tomography. She summed up the results simply:

Newer technology makes a difference in terms of radiation exposure, and the difference is quite large. It is important for patients to ask questions when referred for a radiation-based test to understand what the procedure involves and what the risks are of the particular technique and if there are alternative imaging choices.

Dr. Chinnaiyan is director of advanced cardiac imaging research at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. She was quoted in a Beaumont Health System news release.

Siemens Healthcare USA did fund the study and obviously will be thrilled if it induces facilities with older equipment to upgrade. But the researchers took steps to protect the integrity of their findings. They performed blinded quantitative image analysis on every fifth scan, and they deliberately did not specify protocol selection in order, as the study abstract puts it, “to survey ‘real world’ results.”

Dr. Chinnaiyan said referring physicians as well as patients have responsibility for paying attention to radiation dosage.

“Clinicians must understand that imaging studies not only have a major impact on the care of an individual patient but also on trends in radiation exposure, as well as overall health care costs,” she said. “Incidental findings may require further imaging studies with other radiation-based tests. In addition to choosing patients appropriately, it is important to discuss the risks and benefits of testing with patients, and to refer them to centers that offer newer technologies.”

Related CME seminar (up to 20.25 AMA PRA Category 1 credits™): Computed Body Tomography: The Cutting Edge

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