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Report calls on provinces to regulate scan industry

The authors of a report on the health risks of medical scans say provincial governments must better regulate the industry. In B.C. the health minister says tighter rules aren't even on the radar.

“Ultimately the regulation of the professions is a provincial matter,” said Alan Cassels, a health researcher and a co-author of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report What's in a Scan? “It's perfectly acceptable for radiologists to be regulating their own members, [but] if they're not doing it, who's going to spank them?”

A Harvard study released this week found that 1.5 percent of all cancers in the United States are linked to CT scans, Cassels said. That translates to disease in some 15,000 people. Numbers in Canada would likely be proportionally similar, he said. The researchers found having multiple scans increased a person's risk of cancer.

The risk might be acceptable for people who are ill and want to know what's wrong, said Cassels, but it makes little sense to be doing the tests on healthy people as many private facilities do. “They're exposing people to radiation and they shouldn't,” he said.

Despite the risk, he said, research for the CCPA showed 42 percent of people believed CT and PET scans pose no risk. “People are massively misinformed,” he said. “What you believe could hurt you.”

The report recommended, “Provincial governments must establish meaningful oversight over the marketing and use of these procedures, given that voluntary, professional oversight is ineffective.”

B.C. health minister George Abbott said he had not seen the CCPA report yet but would read it with interest.

“There's a lot of people who go down from British Columbia to Port Angeles and Seattle for private scans in centres that advertise a lot in British Columbia,” he said. “I'm not aware of any initiative to regulate that any further at this time.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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