Robin Hanson on the Down Side of Medicine

Most people are quite skeptical when I tell them the standard estimate is near zero for the marginal effect of medicine on health… In at least 0.4% of hospital stays, a medical mistake “caused or contributed to a patient’s death.” (more)

CT scans of the heart cause one cancer for every 270 [=0.37%] 40-year-old women who undergo the test, researchers estimate. Yet in a study of CT scans investigating abdominal, hip or pelvic pain, only 9 percent of emergency-room doctors knew that the scans increased cancer risk. (more) [But reasonable doubts have been raised about both figures.]

29,000 future cancers could be related to CT scans received in 2007, with the greatest number of cancers projected in the abdomen and pelvis. The cancer risk was greatest for young patients. (more)

More at Hanson’s blog, OvercomingBias.

Comments (5)

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  1. Bruce says:

    A sobering ost.

  2. Vicki says:


  3. Jeff says:

    Bottom line: It looks like we are getting too much care.

  4. Virginia says:

    I think it depends on who you are. If you’ve got a broken leg or need your appendix removed, the hospital is a fine place to be. Things that are emergencies are usually good things to treat in a hospital setting. But, other than that…

  5. Linda Gorman says:

    According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

    “Although radiation may cause cancers at high doses and high dose rates, currently there are no data to establish unequivocally the occurrence of cancer following exposure to low doses and dose rates – below about 10,000 mrem (100 mSv). Those people living in areas having high levels of background radiation – above 1,000 mrem (10 mSv) per year – such as Denver, Colorado, have shown no adverse biological effects.”

    The assertion of 29,000 future cancers is based on a theoretical linear model in which even increases in the lowest doses of radiation are associated with rising cancer risk.

    If people really believed that, Denver and Salt Lake City should be placed off limits in order to control cancer.