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The tools that are available for doctors to investigate our innards these days are the tools of science fiction from my childhood. Back then if you couldn’t figure it out with an x-ray you needed to be cut open.

The truth is that even then, even with you laid wide open, there was a good chance that they could visually miss something that might show up on newer imaging devices such as CT scans and MRI’s. But with some new advances comes a danger, a danger that was mistakenly attributed to the common x-ray “back in the day”, but is a very real danger with CT scans.

The truth about good old fashioned x-rays is that a person would be hard pressed to have enough of them to incur any significant radiation exposure. On the other hand a CT scan, in one fell swoop, can expose you to hundreds of times more radiation than an x-ray. And this amount of exposure isn’t simply linked to a possible higher risk of cancer, but rather has been proven to cause cancer at a fairly alarming rate.

I know I have a tendency to rip off in a direction that doesn’t have anything to do directly with life insurance, but consider the potential to underwriting when further studies confirm that 1 in 50 cancer cases are caused by the over use of CT scans. Life insurance underwriting is all about assessing mortality risk and if your medical records show, for whatever reason, that you have had multiple CT scans, the underwriter knows that you are at a higher risk of contracting cancer, aka, a higher mortality risk.

So why, we ask, are doctors ordering so many CT scans that can potentially give you cancer when they can get the same, or better, imaging from magnetic resonance imaging, MRI. With MRI’s there isn’t any radiation at all so there isn’t any health risk. Better quality! No health risk! It’s all about the money my fellow test monkeys. MRI’s cost more and therefore insurance companies encourage the use of CT scans by paying a higher percentage of their cost. Even when they pay a higher percentage on the CT scan it is less expensive than MRI.

And to make it even more unscrupulous, as if putting your life at risk isn’t enough, studies show that most CT scans aren’t needed at all, but when the machines are owned by a hospital and hospitals need to make money, well, why not just double check that obvious fracture showing on the x-ray by performing an unnecessary CT scan?

Bottom line. Scott Haig in a Time article summed up the decision making process about CT scans like this, “CT is absolutely necessary with head trauma and acute abdominal conditions. Minutes can make a difference in these cases — if, say, there’s bleeding around your brain and you can’t get an MRI — and the speed of a CT scan makes it worth the risk. But in most other situations, it’s wise to let the doctor convince you it’s worth it, before consenting to the scan. Ask your doctor what decisions he or she plans to make with the information from the scan. What other tests could yield the same information? Would an MRI be better? Ask why the CT scan is necessary right now. Make a phone call, ask a specialist. Ask how confident the doctor feels about your diagnosis without the scan. If a good surgeon really thought I had appendicitis, I’d go straight to the OR — not to the scanner.”