Postoperative CT scan of complex spine surgery may have harmful effects, study shows


More patients are undergoing postoperative CT scans after complex spine surgery, which may have effects such as cancer, according to a study published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders.

Here are five things to know:

1. Orthopedic surgeons at Denver-based University of Colorado used insurance database Humana to examine data of 19 million enrollees who underwent spinal surgery between 2007 and 2014.

2. Researchers separated the data into complex surgeries, which included cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine fusions, and simple surgeries, which included discectomy and laminectomy.

3. Researchers only looked at CT and MRI imaging and postoperative imaging frequency extended to five years after surgery.

4. There were 140,660 complex spinal procedures and 39,943 discectomies and 49,889 laminectomies.

5. Imaging results for the prevalence of both pre- and post-operation were as follows:

• Preoperative MRI — 80 percent
• Postoperative CT scan at six-month mark — 18 percent
• Postoperative CT scan at five-year mark — 40 percent
• Postoperative CT — 30 percent or less

Researchers concluded there is an increased use of CT scanning for follow-up imaging after complex surgery. Because of the increased cancer risk from ionizing radiation exposure with CT, researchers advise actions, such as reducing nonessential scans, using the lowest possible radiation dose protocols and implementing non-ferromagnetic implant, to be taken.

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