When school teacher Becky Coudert started losing her hair and had trouble with her memory, she was told she may have received up to 14 times the radiation required during her CT brain scan. Coudert soon filed a class-action lawsuit against G.E Healthcare, the manufacturers of the scanning equipment, for allegedly exposing her and possibly hundreds of other patients to excess radiation.
The FDA recently found that hundreds of patients in Los Angeles and Huntsville were provided with roughly eight times the recommended radiation levels from the CT perfusion scans, used to check for blockages and injuries in the brain.
Coudert’s attorney, who represents 15 other similar cases in Huntsville, said they cannot determine if human error was a factor. However, officials at the Huntsville Hospital in Alabama are in the process of notifying 60 other patients who may have been over exposed to radiation.
The suit is asking the company for at least $5 million to cover the medical bills and other damages for patients exposed to excess radiation during the exams. It argues that the effects of over-radiation go beyond hair loss and may not become apparent for another 10 or 20 years, but that the genetic material of the brain cells was immediately damaged.
Hair follicles are very sensitive to radiation therapy. Cancer patients often suffer hair loss as a result of their treatment within about three weeks after the start of radiation. However, one Jackson County woman, who did not wish to be named, says her hair started to fall out within a few days of the CT scan. It eventually formed a ring of baldness around her head, similar to Becky’s. Another woman said she had trouble remembering her name when logging into her email account following her CT scan.
Although some studies claim that “in comparison to our normal daily exposures from naturally occurring background radiation and daily activities, the exposures from medical [imaging] procedures are quite small”, more recent studies have been published that raise concerns about the risks of radiation.
According to the studies, radiation doses from CT scans are higher than previously thought and vary widely. Based on information from four San Francisco-area hospitals, median effective doses ranged from 2 mSv for a routine head scan to 31 mSv for a multiphase abdomen and pelvis scan. But radiation doses as low as 10 mSv have been linked to an increased cancer risk.*