Using new laboratory techniques, Stanford scientists have been able to get a closer look at what happens inside the cells of patients undergoing medical imaging techniques. In a study published today, their research clearly shows that there is cellular damage in heart patients after CT scanning.
The researchers explained to me in interviews for a press release on the study that this doesn’t link CT scans to cancer. But as Patricia Nguyen, MD, lead author said in the release, it is further indication for caution:
"Whether or not this (cellular damage) causes cancer or any negative effect to the patient is still not clear, but these results should encourage physicians toward adhering to dose reduction strategies."
Due to an explosion in the use CT scans for heart patients over the past decade, public health concerns have been raised over whether there might be a causal link with cancer. But until now, little has been known about exactly what happens at a cellular level when patients undergo CT scanning, a type of medical imaging which exposes them to low-dose radiation. This study took advantage of new laboratory techniques that made it possible to look inside cells of patients after they underwent CT scanning. As Nguyen explained in my release:
"Because we don’t know much about the effects of low-dose radiation — all we know is about high doses from atomic bomb blast survivors — we just assume it’s directly proportional to the dose. We wanted to see what really happens at the cellular level."
Researchers examined the blood of 67 patients undergoing cardiac CT angiography using such techniques as whole-genome sequencing and flow cytometery to measure biomarkers of DNA damage. The results:
... showed an increase in DNA damage and cell death, as well as increased expression of genes involved in cell repair and death, the study said. Although most cells damaged by the scan were repaired, a small percentage of the cells died, the study said.
"These findings raise the possibility that radiation exposure from cardiac CT angiography may cause DNA damage that can lead to mutations if damaged cells are not repaired or eliminated properly," the study said.
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