Full body scan and virtual colonoscopy health risks
Full body scans, promoted in NSW as a new preventative health screening service available to the public, involve doses of radiation that health experts do not consider to be justifiable in terms of a health check.
Last updated: 01 January 2004
Consumers should be aware of the risks associated with full body CT scans (also known as CAT scans) and virtual colonoscopy. Full body scans, promoted in NSW as a new preventative health screening service available to the public, involve doses of radiation that health experts do not consider to be justifiable in terms of a health check.
An investigation by NSW Health and the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) found people can be exposed to dangerously high levels of radiation, sometimes up to 500 times more than a standard chest x-ray, for no gain at all.
It is important to distinguish between CT scanning as a screening tool, and CT scanning for diagnostic investigation. This warning applies to the use of CT scanning in people with no symptoms, or with symptoms that have not been assessed by a General Practitioner.
In other patients, CT scanning is one of many useful investigations available to explore symptoms or monitor the progress of significant diseases, with the radiation dose involved in a conventional diagnostic scan deemed to be justified by the health benefits that may arise from the diagnosis.
However full body CT scans as a health check up are unproven and no studies have been completed to support their use for this purpose.
Leading Australian and international authorities on radiation technology do not support CT body scans as a preventative screening tool.
Another recently developed application of the CT scanner is virtual colonoscopy. While this test has some use in the investigation of people with a risk of bowel cancer, it should only be undertaken after consulting with a general practitioner or gastroenterologist to consider the most appropriate method of investigation for an individual.
According to the International Commission on Radiological Protection, a full CT body scan examination with an effective dose of 10 millisieverts may be associated with an increase in the possibility of developing a fatal cancer of approximately 1 in 2,000.
This small increase in radiation-associated cancer risk for an individual can become a public health concern if large numbers of the population undergo increased numbers of CT scans of uncertain benefit.
The independent Radiation Advisory Council that advises the EPA and NSW Health on radiation matters, raised the following issues in relation to full body CT scans:
CT scan operators who rely on advertising for business are subject to the following license conditions:
CT scans have an important role to play in the medical setting and should be used in accordance with professional medical advice. Consumers have a right to know that to use full body scans or virtual colonoscopy as a screening tool may increase their risk of cancer.
|Further information - Public Health Units in NSW|
|For more information please contact your doctor, local public health unit or community health centre - look under NSW Government at the front of the White Pages|
|Metropolitan Areas||Location||Number||Rural Areas||Location||Number|
|Northern Sydney||Hornsby||02 9477 9400||Greater Southern||Goulburn||02 4824 1837|
|Central Coast||Gosford||02 4349 4845||Albury||02 6080 8900|
|South Eastern Sydney||Randwick||02 9382 8333||Greater Western||Broken Hill||08 8080 1499|
|Illawarra Shoalhaven||Wollongong||02 4221 6700||Dubbo||02 6841 5569|
|Sydney South West||Camperdown||02 9515 9420||Bathurst||02 6339 5601|
|Sydney West||Penrith||02 4734 2022||Hunter/New England||Newcastle||02 4924 6477|
|Parramatta||02 9840 3603||Tamworth||02 6764 8000|
|Justice Health Service||Matraville||02 9311 2707||North Coast||Port Macquarie||02 6588 2750|
|Lismore||02 6620 7585|