CT scans yield higher-resolution images than regular medical X-rays. Unfortunately, they also expose the patient to hundreds and sometimes thousands of times the amount of radiation.
The routine use of CT scans has vastly increased. In 1980, there were roughly 3 million CT scans performed. By 2007, that number had increased to 70 million. CT scans are now being promoted to healthy people even whole body CT scans.
According to Life Extension Magazine:
u201CThe problem is that the explosion in unnecessary CT scans has been going on every year. If we carry this back just ten years, this means that 150,000 Americans are facing horrific deaths from CT scan-induced cancers.u201D
Dr. Mercola’s Comments:
Despite clear evidence that the radiation from x-rays is damaging to your body, our current medical system continues to promote the careless and excessive use of radiation-based diagnostic scans.
The amount of money spent on medical imaging doubled between 2000 and 2006 to about $14 billion a year and that is just Medicare alone, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office.
More than 70 million CT scans per year are now performed in the US, including at least 4 million on children. This is up from just 3 million in 1980.
Nearly 30,000 Get Cancer EVERY Year in the US from CT Scans
According to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine last year, CT scans alone will cause nearly 30,000 unnecessary cancer cases (about 2 percent of cancer cases), which will lead to about 14,500 deaths.
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But wait, there's more bad news.
While 30,000 cancer cases is a large number, a New England Journal of Medicine study from 2007 estimated that overuse of diagnostic CT scans may cause up to 3 million excess cancers over the next 20 to 30 years.
For those slow on math that is 1,00X more deaths over the next 25 years.
David Brenner of Columbia University, lead author of the study, told USA Today:
“About one-third of all CT scans that are done right now are medically unnecessary … Virtually anyone who presents in the emergency room with pain in the belly or a chronic headache will automatically get a CT scan. Is that justified?”
Why are so many CT scans being done, when they result in so many unnecessary deaths?
There are several reasons:
- Physicians fear being sued for malpractice if they miss something.
- Some patients pressure their physicians for scans u201Cjust to be safe,u201D especially after hearing advertisements touting the benefits of new hi-tech tests (without disclosure of the risks).
- Physicians are more often using scans to screen u201Cthe worried wellu201D (such as scanning former smokers for lung cancer).
- Many doctors have purchased their own imaging equipment for their practices. This adds a financial incentive into the mix and sets the stage for overuse of the technology.
- There's a trend toward commercially advertised full-body CT scans to u201Cfind everything wrong with you.u201D Consumers with extra cash lying around (in excess of $1,000 in most cases) are being encouraged to undergo a full-body scan as a preventive measure.
While high-tech imaging can be beneficial in certain cases, it must be used SPARINGLY because it exposes your body to dangerous radiation radiation that is proven to cause cancer.
And you are being exposed to more radiation from your diagnostic test than was previously thought. Studies have recently found that radiation doses from CT scans tend to be higher than the amounts generally reported.
When the diagnostic procedure causes the disease you are trying to avoid, perhaps you should reconsider the procedure!
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Becoming aware of the risks of medical scans is part of becoming a smart consumer and knowing your health care options. Research suggests that a dismal seven percent of patients are informed of the risks of CT scans.
Why X-Rays are so Damaging to Your Health
There are four primary reasons that x-rays (and other diagnostic tests that rely on ionizing radiation, such as mammograms and CTs) should be minimized:
- They cause chromosomal mutations that are often irreparable, and the effects are cumulative.
- They cause DNA changes that are proven to lead to cancer.
- They cause DNA damage in your arteries, which can lead to cardiovascular disease.
- They often result in misdiagnosis and false positives, increasing the likelihood of follow up tests further increasing your radiation exposure.
X-rays and other types of ionizing radiation have been, for decades, a proven cause of virtually all types of mutations especially structural chromosomal mutations. X-rays are an established cause of genomic instability, which is frequently seen in the most aggressive cancers.
X-rays act like tiny little u201Cgrenadesu201D that are far more damaging to your DNA than the metabolic free radicals, which are routinely produced by your cell's natural metabolism. Ionizing radiation can damage the genetic material of every internal organ or cell lying within the path of an x-ray beam. Within an organ, even a single high-speed high-energy electron, set into motion by an x-ray photon, has a chance of inducing the types of damage that defy repair.
That is why there is no safe dose of x-rays.
And when such mutations are not lethal to the cell, they persist and accumulate with each additional exposure to x-rays or other ionizing radiation.
On top of the DNA mutation effects, there is the issue of arterial damage and increased risk of blood clots.
How can radiation move you closer to a heart attack?
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Radiation damages the DNA in your arteries, which in turn causes the cells lining your arteries to multiply abnormally, decreasing the size of the arterial lumen and effectively u201Cnarrowingu201D your arteries. This radiation-induced tissue inside your arteries is similar to scar tissue, decreasing vessel elasticity and increasing your risk for arterial blockage.
According to John Gofman, M.D., Ph.D., evidence indicates that more than 50 percent of deaths from cancer and more than 60 percent of deaths from ischemic heart disease may be x-ray-induced.
Misdiagnosis – Yet Another Drawback that Can Significantly Harm Your Health
Full body scans (as well as mammograms) can frequently lead to misdiagnosis rather than provide peace of mind. They are notoriously unreliable and often have incidental findings that are within the u201Cnormal rangeu201D of variation, but worry the patient needlessly and create the desire for follow-up tests, and/or even more unnecessary medical interventions.
False positive diagnoses are far more common than you might think as high as 89 percent in mammograms! leading many to be unnecessarily and harmfully treated by mastectomy, more radiation, or chemotherapy.
Just the stress of having to cope with a diagnosis of a potential cancer could be enough to move the body toward disease and away from health.
Radiation Accidents More Common than You Might Think
If the dangers of u201Cproperly executedu201D CT scans don't scare you, the additional risk of x-rays-gone-wrong will undoubtedly give you a chill.
The complexity of medical radiation technology has created new avenues for error by way of software flaws, faulty programming, poor safety procedures or inadequate staffing and training.
When those errors occur, they can be severe – even deadly.
The following types of radiation injuries have been reported:
- DNA damage and mutations
- Acute radiation toxicity (burned skin, nausea, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, loss of taste, tongue swelling, hair loss, etc.)
- Skin burns, including gaping holes in the body that won't close
- Wounds that won't heal due to damaged blood vessels and chronic inflammation, which deprive the area of nourishment
- Organ damage
- Bone death, such as destruction of the jaw, and loss of teeth
The New York Times published an article in January of 2010 about the alarming rise in radiation-related injuries and deaths, including those listed above. People know very little about the harm that can ensue when safety rules are violated and these powerful and technologically complex machines go awry.
The difference between a routine CT scan and a death sentence is as simple as a computer error causing you to be blasted with errant beams of radiation, leaving you in unspeakable pain, or worse.
Your Odds May be as Low as 1 in 20 for Sustaining a Radiation Injury
There is no good estimate of the frequency of these radiation accidents regulators and researchers can only guess how often radiologic mishaps occur. They're chronically underreported, and some states don't require they be reported at all.
Dr. John Feldmeier, an authority on the treatment of radiation injuries, estimates that 1 in 20 patients will suffer radiation injuries. According to the New York Times article, the nation's largest wound care company treated 3,000 severe radiation injuries in 2009 alone.
You might not even realize you've suffered radiation overexposure, if you don't happen to connect your symptoms to the radiological event.
This is precisely what happened to 200 patients in Los Angeles who underwent a specific type of CT brain scan at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The unsuspecting patients received eight to 10 times the normal dose of radiation due to an incorrectly programmed machine. The overdose wasn't discovered for 18 months and only came to light after a patient reported losing patches of hair following the scan.
On the whole, diagnostic imaging tests have increased your average radiation exposure sevenfold since 1980.
Increased exposure means increased cancer risk.
Widely Overused CT Scans May Cause 1 Million Excess Cancers per Decade
There is no doubt the use of radiation in medicine has many benefits that's indisputable. However, you may not be aware you could be having the same x-rays done for a fraction of the radiation exposure.
Within the professions of radiology and radiologic physics, there are mainstream experts who have shown how the dosage of x-rays in current practice could be cut by more than 50 percent, without any loss of information and without eliminating a single procedure.
The potential for dose-reduction may far exceed 50 percent without loss of quality, and in fact with an improvement in quality due to uniform exposure:
- Radiation can be reduced at least 5-fold for some common x-ray exams
- Radiation can be reduced at least 8-fold for abdominal exposures
- Mammogram radiation can be reduced 55- to 69-fold for various breast images
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CT scans emit far more radiation than conventional X-rays a CT scan of the chest delivers 100 times the radiation of a conventional chest X-ray, and a mammogram delivers 1,000 times more radiation.
Over a ten-year period, a woman can receive as much radiation exposure (5 rads) from routine mammograms as a Japanese woman one mile from the epicenter of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
Many nonessential radiation-based scans could be eliminated altogether.
Thousands of Children Die Every Year from CT Scans
High doses of radiation are of particular danger to children, because they have many developing cells and organs. Children also have many years of life ahead of them over which they will experience multiple x-rays and the risk is cumulative.
What is inexcusable is that CT scans given to kids are typically calibrated for adults. Children are routinely receiving two to six times the radiation necessary to accomplish the task (American Journal of Roentgenology 2001).
As a result, it is estimated that 1500 children may die each year from CT scans they had earlier in life.
How You Can Protect Yourself from u201CIndecent Exposureu201D
I would encourage you to avoid x-rays whenever possible.
There may be times when a CT scan is warranted, depending on your condition. But oftentimes a CT scan can be substituted with an MRI or an ultrasound, both of which have fewer harmful side effects, while still able to produce the necessary information.
The UC Berkeley Wellness Letter offers some good suggestions for questions you should ask before undergoing a diagnostic scan:
- Is the test really necessary?
- What difference will it make in my care?
- Is there a non-radiation alternative, such as ultrasound or MRI?
- Is the facility accredited by the American College of Radiology?
- Will the test use the lowest level of radiation for adequate imaging? (Will it be adjusted for my size, or my child's size?)
- Will the scan be limited to the indicated area, and will nearby areas be shielded?
Avoid CT Scans Unless Your Life Depends on It
I believe the evidence is very clear that you need to avoid CT scans at all costs. There is absolutely no justification to use a full body scan as a screening of any sort. That is just utter nonsense and the risk in no way justifies the benefit.
Occasionally CT scans are useful diagnostically, but in most cases MRIs can provide similar imaging results and at this time appear to be far safer.
Natural Ways to Help You Strengthen Your Body Against the Assaults of Medical Radiation
In addition to seeking to avoid unnecessary radiation exposure and using the safest medical testing available whenever you do need a medical image test, you may be able to lower your radiation-induced risk for cancer by using a potent antioxidant.
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If, for whatever reason you are forced into a CT scan, this is the best advice I can give you, to protect yourself from this massive ionizing radiation exposure…
Astaxanthin is a potent carotenoid and everything I have studied suggests it is the most potent antioxidant to protect against this type of damage. You can take 24 mg of astaxanthin to protect your cells and tissues.
The downside, however, is that you need to be on it for several weeks to prevent the damage.
The side benefit is that the astaxanthin will also likely prevent the most common cause of blindness, age related macular degeneration, cataracts and also help protect you from getting sunburned.
A 100% Safe Imaging Alternative to Mammograms
As mentioned earlier, mammography is another example of overused, risky imaging technology. Not only does it expose you to potentially dangerous amounts of radiation, it also compresses your breasts tightly, which can actually spread dangerous cancer cells, should they exist.
Updated guidelines now call for women under 50 to forego routine screening mammography. This is a small step in the right direction; however, there is a far better option.
I highly recommend thermography, particularly for breast screening.
Thermographic screening is entirely safe, non-invasive, and brilliantly simple. This technology measures the radiation of infrared heat from your body and translates the information into anatomical images.
There is no pressure or compression of your breasts, and no radiation. Perhaps best of all, this imaging system can detect signs of breast cancer up to 10 years before either a mammogram or a physical exam.
If your doctor or other health care provider recommends a CT scan, mammogram or other imaging technique as either a screening tool or to diagnose a physical complaint, I strongly encourage you to explore all your options before agreeing to be radiated.
Don't trade your good health or a minor complaint for an increased risk of x-ray-induced cancer in the future.
September 27, 2010