Brussels, 06 Jul 2005
Researchers from ten teams in seven EU countries are working together to assess the safety and efficacy of computed tomography (CT) scans.
CT scanners use x-ray equipment to obtain cross-sectional images of the body. The detailed pictures of organs, bones and other tissues can be used to diagnose diseases such as cancer, where a tumour is visible, as well as injuries. They are therefore an extremely valuable resource for medical practitioners, but have raised concern in some quarters on account of the exposure of patients to x-rays.
The MSCT project has been granted three million euro under the 'Euratom research and training programme on nuclear energy' within the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) to answer such questions as: are all CT scans necessary? Are up-to-date protocols used to keep the radiation exposure of patients to x-rays as low as possible? Are further design improvements possible? How can CT scans for children be made safer?
The expected benefits of a scan are currently thought to outweigh the risk of exposure to x-rays. The partners will seek to prove this hypothesis using techniques from a relatively new scientific discipline - 'medical decision-making'.
Once the use of CT scanners has been justified, researchers will look at optimising scans for both groups of patients and individuals. It should be possible to tailor the scan to the size of a patient, thus avoiding a slightly-built person being scanned with x-rays of the same strength as those used for an obese person. This section of the project will be carried out by physicists, coordinated by the Friedrich-Alexander University in Germany.
The risks of CT scans for children has received a lot of publicity in recent years. Articles in both scientific journals and the popular press have argued that children are more sensitive to x-ray exposure than adults, and that clinical practice in CT scanning for children has not been adequately assessed and optimised. One of the project's four work packages will focus on this area of CT scans.
The final task for the MSCT consortium will be to measure x-rays in order to assess radiation risks. This section of the study will be conducted at the National Radiological Protection Board in Chilton, the UK.
The project as a whole is coordinated by the Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands.
The results are expected to provide radiologists and doctors making referrals with practical guidance on whether or not a patient should undergo a CT scan. Recommendations on tools for optimal acquisition techniques will also be made following the conclusion of the project. Further in the future, the results of the project will be shared with manufacturers, and are expected to lead to the incorporation of new technical concepts in CT scanners.
In society at large, it is hoped that patients will have more confidence in doctors' decisions to recommend a CT scan, and will be able to approach the scan with fewer concerns. Doctors will be provided with practical tools such as decision trees for specific clinical conditions in order to justify the need for a scan.
This will mark an important accomplishment. As most medical practitioners agree, not having a scan can carry a much higher risk than having one - especially if a disease such as cancer is suspected.
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