Medical Malpractice, CT Scans and The Risk for Pediatric Cancer

Jun 2013

Our New Haven medical malpractice lawyers know that many doctors are concerned about being accused of medical malpractice for their acts or for their omissions. In recent decades, fear over medical malpractice lawsuits has led to doctors making decisions that are not always in the best interests of the patients.  For example, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of cesarean sections performed because doctors want to reduce their chances of being sued for labor and delivery injuries. There has also been an increase in the number of medical tests performed across many different fields and specialties as doctors are afraid of misdiagnosing or failing to diagnose patients and getting sued because of it.

Unfortunately, when a doctor’s care decisions are driven by fear and by a focus on avoiding medical malpractice lawsuits, patient care can suffer. The doctor’s bad choices can actually cause harm and can result in the physicians facing the very thing they were trying to avoid: a medical malpractice claim.   One example of a situation where a fear of medical malpractice may put patients in danger, for example, is when kids are given unnecessary CT scans.

Study Shows Childhood CT Scans Increases Cancer Risk

According to a recent article on  Time Health and Family, the use of computed tomography (CT scans) almost tripled between 1996 and 2010. The number of scans during this time period went from 52 scans for every 1,000 patients to 149 scans for every 1,000 patients.  There were a few reasons for this increase in CT scans, including both advancements in medical technology and the increasing fear about medical malpractice claims.

The author of one study, a professor of radiology and biomedical imaging at the University of California San Francisco, indicated that the threshold has been lowered for CT scans and that the scans are now used for almost any reason. This has resulted in the scans being used more than necessary and more than is clinically indicated.

The consequences of this over-testing are not minor, especially when the tests are performed on children.  Researchers recently conducted a massive study involving looking at the records of more than 10.9 million people born between 1985 and 2005. The study compared the cancer rates of kids exposed to CT scans in early childhood with the rates of kids who did not receive such scans. The participants were tracked for between 10 to 17 years.

Unfortunately, the outcome of the study revealed that kids exposed to CT scans were more likely to develop cancer than those who had not had such testing done.   Kids who had scans done before age five had a 35 percent increased risk of developing cancer during the study period, while the overall increase in patients who had scans versus those who did not was 24 percent.

The findings of this study are disturbing because many of the kids who got CT scans likely didn’t really need them. For example, many kids are given a CT scan as a result of any head trauma in order to rule out internal bleeding or other serious problems that would cause immediate surgery. However, only around two percent of kids who get these scans actually need treatment.

Doctors need to be aware of the dangers of CT scans to kids and should be sure they are really making an informed choice about whether they are ordering a CT scan to protect the child or to protect themselves from a malpractice claim.

Further, doctors need to ensure that parents understand the risks and give informed consent before performing any testing on a patient. A failure to obtain informed consent can lead to a medical malpractice claim.   The more informed parents are, the better position they will be in to decide if a medical test or procedure is right for their kids.

If you were injured by medical malpractice, contact the Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone & Morelli, by calling  1-800-WIN-WIN-1.

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