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Physicians Defend Medical Imaging in Fight Against Cancer

Medical experts have defended medical imaging as a way to improve health care, during a briefing at the U.S. Capitol building.

A panel of experts said medical imaging, which uses technology to evaluate parts of a patient that are not visible externally, has proven critical in the fight against cancer.

The procedures, which include CAT-scans, x-rays, and magnetic resonance imaging, or MRIs, have become more common in recent years.

But their increased use has drawn some opposition. In a March 2005 report, a Congressional commission indicated that advanced technology, including medical imaging, has helped drive increases in health care spending.

But medical experts say most people do not understand how much advanced technology helps physicians improve the level of care for their patients.

The experts said medical imaging also allows physicians to conduct fewer operations to determine the cause of a symptom and lets them focus more on procedures to correct or eliminate problems. It also allows doctors to determine if therapy treatments are working for a patient.

President and CEO of General Electric Healthcare Joe Hogan says there are financial benefits to using the technology.

"That's a terrific thing, too, because you don't want a patient to go forward with therapy if it's not working,” said Mr. Hogan. “You want to find the right therapy, and, at the same time, you don't want to incur the cost of the system of applying therapies that don't make sense."

But the 2005 commission suggested imaging procedures are overused and sometimes misused. The study recommended steps to control how often medical imaging is used, as well as improving its quality. The commission also suggested limits to government insurance reimbursements for some medical imaging.

Nancy Davenport-Innis of the National Patient Advocate Foundation says limiting those payments could be counterproductive. "Reducing reimbursement for imaging will, indeed, reduce patient access to the very therapy that can help to appropriately stage the disease, intervene favorably with the appropriate therapy at the appropriate time. Imaging will avoid added cost to the system."

Medical experts say technological advances have given cancer victims a better chance at survival. In the United States alone, the National Cancer Institute estimates the number of cancer survivors has risen from 3 million in 1971 to roughly 10 million today.