Read Original Story

CT scans add to cancer risk


4 Star

CT scans add to cancer risk

Our Review Summary

The report accurately reflects the implications of the explosive growth of CT scanning that carries a higher radiation dose than many other x-ray examinations.  The news story does an efficient job of discussing the dilemma of how to approach a valuable diagnostic test with a new appreciation of risks.  

Where it falls short, however, is in providing a better context for the viewer.  What type of study gave rise to the report?  This was a statistical estimation of risk, extrapolating from epidemiological data and estimation of radiation doses. How confident should the viewer be given this method?  What are the risks to the individual of a CT scan, and how many extra cancers are we really talking about? Can the benefits of this test (versus alternatives) be quantified?  Finally, identifying disinterested experts in this highly-technical field to put this dilemma into perspective would be helpful.



Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story mentioned that CT scans are faster and better at diagnosing certain problems than are other types of imaging.  It did not, however, provide information about the costs of various types of imaging or whether there were differences in terms of costs covered by insurance.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

Since the story focused on the harms of the approach, quantifying the benefits of CT scans is not imperative in this case.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The article fails to flesh out the quantification of the effect under study, namely additional risk of cancers.  While the source study reports on "attributable risk" of cancer and cancer-deaths due to CT scanning, it would be helpful for the viewer to know what this means in terms of numbers of cancers and risk to the individual.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story mentioned that it was reporting on information in a recently published article in the New England Journal of Medicine.  However they did not report on the nature of the study.  They did not mention the methods used to estimated the additional risk due to CT radiation exposure. The source article mentions that a more definitive prospective observational study is ongoing. This story should have pointed out the possible limitations of the study.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The story reported that the article it discussed estimated that the percentage of cancer caused by CT scans will increase from 0.4% to 2.0%.  It did not, however explain that the content was extrapolated from epidemiological data and estimation of radiation doses.

It would have been useful to provide a framework to understand the relative significance of the reported on increase in number of cancers.  How does it compare, for example to the numbers of cancers due to cigarette smoking?

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


The reporter interviewed two sources in the story.  One was the first author of the article being reported on.  One appeared not to be involved in the study reported on.  It would have been helpful to clearly identify the doctors beyond their names to explain why they were interviewed.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


Two other scanning methods -MRI and ultrasound – were briefly mentioned. 

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The story did not include information about availability of CT scans (i.e. in hospital setting, in free standing imaging centers).  However, the point of the story was that the technology is over used.  While not meeting our usual standard of describing availability, the context of the news spot makes this less important.

Although the story mentioned that patients ought to make sure that the doctor gives you ‘the least possible dose’, it did not inform the viewer that this option is not available on all CT equipment.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story was clear that it wasn’t reporting on a new approach but rather on the increased use of an existing diagnostic method.

While mentioning that ‘many of these CT scans are unnecessary’ the story did little in terms of better enabling a viewer to distinguish between necessary and unnecessary scans.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


Does not appear to rely solely or largely on a press release.

Total Score: 6 of 9 Satisfactory


Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.