The story does a nice job of highlighting the public policy implications of medical research findings. It reports not only the conclusions of a study calculating potential harms of a screening test for heart disease; it uses the new estimate of elevated cancer risk from CT screening to examine a Texas law that requires insurers to subsidize the scans. Rather than just tossing an isolated fact to readers, the reporter provides context that clearly shows how this information relates to the actions of legislators and the larger context of efforts to control the rising costs of health care – both financial costs and the potential health risks of tests and interventions.
The story not only mentions the cost of a scan to individuals ($100 to $500), it also notes that about $50 million dollars was spent on this type of scanning nationwide in 2008. A longer story could have also reported on the costs of additional testing and treatments triggered by screening apparently healthy individuals.
As mentioned above, the story notes that while some experts recommend CT screening for coronary artery calcium deposits in order to increase the number of people receiving treatment to reduce the likelihood of a heart, others are skeptical about the real value of this type of screening for apparently health people. The reporter points out that many heart attacks strike people who do not have very high cholesterol levels or other indicators of elevated risk, but also that “no study has linked the use of CT scans with better patient outcomes.”
The potential cancer risk caused by CT screening for signs of heart disease is the point of this story. Also, by highlighting uncertainty about the benefits of the screening and recapping debate over the Texas law mandating coverage of the scans, the story emphasizes the importance of considering potential harms when setting public policy on screening tests. A longer story could have considered other potential harms, including the side effects of treatments prescribed based on screening tests.
The story does a good job of summarizing the results of this study of potential cancer risk from CT screening. In addition, it outlines the positions of experts and organizations on the broader body of evidence on the use of CT scans to identify people who may have plaque buildups in their heart arteries.
It would have been better if the reporter stated that the estimate was based on several assumptions, that it wasn’t a definitive point estimate, but just the center of a range, and that it was higher than earlier estimates. Readers still got the point that there is a cancer risk which needs to be considered.
The story notes that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., but it also points out doubts about whether screening with CT scans for calcium buildup in heart arteries can reduce the toll.
The story includes experts and advocates that represent the key perspectives in debate about CT screening for calcium deposits in coronary arteries. However, it does not include information on possible conflicts of interest.
Although this story points out that alternative screening techniques are available and it makes reference to cholesterol, it does not include any details about the alternatives.
The story says that the CT scanners used for this test are “all over the city” and included an estimate that in 2008 about 200,000 people around the country were scanned for calcium buildups in their coronary arteries.
not in question in this story
The story includes quotes from independent experts and other information that was not in the news release about the journal article.