The use of whole-body CT scans for severe trauma victims significantly boosts survival rates, according to the largest study of its kind, released Tuesday.
Computerized tomography -- commonly known as CT scans -- is an X-ray technique that produces images of the body's internal structures in cross sections.
Unlike two-dimensional X-rays, which are generated by beams of radiation from a stationary machine, CT scans couple powerful computers with an X-ray unit that rotates around the body.
Only within the last decade have full-body scans become feasible technically. But whether their systematic use for severe trauma patients was justified against cost and radiation exposure has remained highly debated.
A team of researchers led by Stefan Huber-Wagner of Munich University Hospital conducted the first large-scale study to find out whether the technique increased survival rates.
Their study, published in the British journal The Lancet, looked at 4,621 individuals from German trauma centres who had suffered critical injuries, three quarters of them men. Of these, 1,494 had been given whole-body CT.
The two groups of patients were compared across two indices, the trauma and injury severity score (TRISS), and the revised injury classification system (RISC).
TRISS is the most widely used measure of predicting outcomes for trauma victims.
The researchers found that the mortality rate in the CT group was 25 percent lower on the TRISS scale, and 13 percent less using the RISC index.
"Our results show the importance of having a CT scanner near the trauma room," the authors conclude.
"We recommend that whole-body CT should be integrated into the early resuscitation phase of severely injured patients as a standard and basic diagnostic method."
In a commentary, also published in The Lancet, Timothy Fabian of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis argued that benefits outweighed cost.
"I do not believe that health-care cost is a substantial concern with whole-body CT," he said.