four computed tomography myths busted: radiology myths

If you’ve worked in radiology for a while, you’ll know that there are a ton of myths and misconceptions circulating out there regarding our industry, some of them more funny than others. Each and every day we’re confronted by patients who have fallen victim to these misconceptions, who were told by a friend who was told by a friend that getting a CT scan will kill them, or that if you undergo too many x-rays you’ll have a Spiderman-esque transformation. 

Not all of these rumors are bad, some of them would be really cool if they were actually true (who wouldn’t want to turn into Spiderman?), but the fact of the matter is that many of them are, sadly, incorrect. Today we’re setting the record straight. Here are 4 of the most common CT myths that we hear, busted.

Getting a CT scan will give me cancer.

This is probably the myth that radiologists deal with the most on a daily basis. There’s this idea out there that the radiation dose from a CT scan is deadly, that having a medical imaging procedure like this is pretty much a guarantee for getting cancer later down the line. Although it’s true that patients who undergo CT procedures are exposed to doses of radiation, the misconception comes into play regarding the amount.

A CT scan can deliver anywhere between 2 to 10 millisieverts of radiation, depending on the type of scan. Those numbers might sound high to you, but these doses are actually incredibly low. To help put it in perspective, the average American is exposed to 3 millisieverts of radiation each year simply from environmental radiation, and if you live in higher elevation areas like Colorado then that number is closer to 10.

So yes, you’ll be exposed to additional radiation when you get a CT scan, but the dosage isn’t really any higher than the natural radiation you’ll be exposed to over the year. There haven’t been any scientific links between low-dosage radiation from medical imaging and cancer, and there probably never will be. The risks may increase if you’re getting an abnormal amount of scans (like 10+ in a year), but for patients who are getting a onetime procedure, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.

Your radiologist is the same as your technologist.

This is probably the misconception that surprises us the most, but studies have shown that the majority of people don’t actually understand what a radiologist does, or know that they have extensive years of medical training under their belts. In fact, a recent study in the British Journal of Radiology showed that 80% of patients actually thought that the radiologist was the person who operated the machine during their imaging procedure. Only 20% of participants realized that the radiologist was responsible for interpreting the actual scans.

CT scans cost way more than MRI’s do.

 There’s a lot of confusion in general about CT’s vs. MRI’s, but one of the most frustrating myths we run into is that CT scans are so much more expensive than MRI’s. Frankly, that’s just not true. In fact, CT’s are usually the cheaper of the two imaging procedures.

There are probably a few reasons why people are under this impression. After all, CT scans are significantly faster than an MRI, they’re more common in emergency rooms (which people associate with high costs), and they’re also more comfortable for patients than their MRI counterparts.

When you stack the two procedures up like that, it makes sense that patients would assume an MRI is cheaper. Once they’ve done their research or been provided with some quotes through their insurance or imaging facility, though, it’s easy to bust that myth then and there.

All radiologists are anti-social whackjobs.

We’re going to be honest, most CT myths we can either laugh at or get behind, but this one we take very personally. We’re going to start by saying that yes, every field out there has people in it who are anti-social or incredibly strange, but this very common stereotype that all radiologists do is sit alone in dark rooms hiding from strangers and petting their cat? It’s a little ridiculous.

ISCT16—aka the best meeting of the year that takes hundreds of radiologists and traps them in a room together—just happened a few months ago, and we can tell you for certain that there were zero dark rooms, zero cats involved, and a LOT of conversations going on for a group of people that’s supposed to be incredibly anti-social.

Like with anything else, the computed tomography industry is going to be the brunt of several jokes and stereotypes, and the people in it are going to find themselves devoting a lot of time towards correcting the many myths and misconceptions that people have in their heads about both radiologists and CT scans themselves. It comes with the territory. The best thing that you can do is to take everything with a grain of salt, find the humor in each crazy myth or misconception that you hear about our industry, and devote time towards properly educating patients on what the CT world is really like.