Another meaningless mistaken-ridden medical marvel morning show segment on CBS

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A CBS Early Show segment on “three heart tests all women should know about” actually claimed that heart CT scans involved no radiation! And this involved a physician-correspondent!

Excerpts of the story review on

This was classic morning show health news garbage.

“Three heart tests that all women should know about”? “All” suggests that even women without symptoms should be thinking about these tests. But the segment later says that the tests are only for women with symptoms, but then never gives a detailed description of these symptoms.

So viewers are left with another high-tech showcase: stress echocardiograms, screening ultrasounds, and CT scans looking for calcium in the coronary arteries – the menu for the morning news-viewing woman.

Does CBS and its physician-correspondent realize that the term “screening” (which they used in reference to ultrasounds) does not apply to those with symptoms?

So which women – precisely – should think about or pursue these tests? Those with symptoms – or those without symptoms?

On top of everything else, the segment included a glaring, unforgivable error. It said that the three tests involved no radiation – implying that they are harm-free. But a cardiac CT scan has an average radiation dose equivalent to 600 chest x-rays!!! In addition, according to a 2007 study in JAMA, there is an increased risk of breast cancer in women having the test due to the radiation dose. And this segment was all about women having these tests.

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Is this news? Is this public education? Or is it just another meaningless medical marvel morning show segment that fails to quantify benefits or talk about harms or acknowledge costs?

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Marilyn Mann

June 21, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Were they talking about calcium scans, sometimes called “heart scans”? Or were they referring to CT angiography? Calcium scans are only used for people without symptoms. CT angiography is generally used for people with symptoms. Both involve radiation, but the radiation dose is much higher with CT angiography than with calcium scans. The figures you cite above relate to CT angiography.
I recommend reading the following editorial by Steven Nissen: Limitations of Computed Tomography Coronary Angiography, J Am Coll Cardiol, 2008; 52:2145-2147.
Carotid ultrasounds (ultrasounds of the carotid artery) do not involve any radiation.
I’m not advocating that people get these tests, I just wanted to clarify.

Trisha Torrey

June 21, 2009 at 4:33 pm

You have no idea how much I appreciate it when you analyze headlines and show us patients how something that is so official sounding can actually be such worthless information.
Too often, despite the fact that pieces may be called “news” they are actually infomercials. I tell my readers that they really need to follow the money, and read or listen between the lines.
Thanks for providing this excellent service.
Trisha Torrey
Guide to Patient Empowerment

harmon hathaway

June 21, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Health Watch
Dear Gary
I have watched medical information on TV that I feel creates mystery, fear and doubt in people. This I feel, is in large part by design and serves the drug industries interests. Natural health modalities don’t have the advertising money to promote their practices, which are far cheaper then medical expenses. The internet becomes an area people can access for alternative treatments and a non-intrusive slant on body problems. I must say that I have met many doctors and nurses that are open an honest about treatment and will advise people to do the least intrusive program for an illness.
The big problem is leaving people with mental alerts (wiring) that causes worry and apprehension about there bodies, which can actually make people sick.
Thank you for highlighting this story for us. I will also twitter the link to this article.
Harmon Hathaway


June 21, 2009 at 10:52 pm

what’s even more disturbing than what you point out is what you omit. that is, that these morning shows devote ANY medical coverage nearly EXCLUSIVELY to women, as though men or boys simply DO NOT exist on this planet. despite the fact that men and boys suffer far more than women and girls from most disease processes and die 7 years sooner than women. do men watch these shows, too? ah, yes. men produce these shows. men write columns about these shows, but no man seems to have any sense that this constant blatant sexism against men and boys has ANY meaning whatsoever, which is far more dangerous than the issue the author of this blog writes about.

Bill R.

June 22, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Unfortunately, stories like this are continually replayed in our marketing-driven, sound bite culture. Trisha makes a good point that consumers must “follow the money” in order to uncover real, usable information. As for FC’s comment, I’m sure that this coverage is targeted towards those believed to make health and treatment decisions in the household.

Gary Schwitzer

June 22, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Someone just brought to my attention that – on the air – the correspondent did briefly mention that CT scans “contain radiation.”
But – as you can see on this CBS website version of the story – – it says that “These three tests are non-invasive and don’t have radiation.”