Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Medical Imaging-Cancer Connection

Cancer is one of the words in any language that instills fear into the hearts of the many, including I suppose, those who treat it. While research would appear to be making feverish efforts at not only uncovering its many causes, some experts believe that it is the medical community that is causing increases in cancer rates. How can that be? If true, it’s one of the most onerous of iatrogenic illnesses yet to be revealed. Oh, BTW, iatrogenic illnesses are those pesky little things that your treating docs cause by their interventions be they pharmaceutical or brought on by other treatments.

What is the treatment that might be goosing those cancer rates ever upward to the point where they will surely surpass heart attacks or cardiac diseases as causes of death? Simple answer here. It’s, according to some medical experts and medical writers, the very intervention that we have come to love so much—medical imaging. How many CT scans have you or your kids or members of your extended family had in the past decade or so? Count them up and then look at how much radiation each of those innocent scans racks up in your body. You may be shocked. Go ahead. Do a Google search for “CT scans and radiation risk.” You can do it now or you can do it later.

Here’s one statistic you may find interesting. One article (published in the NYT in January 2014) stated that the use of CT scans “increased more than six-fold between the 1980s and 2006, according to the National Council on Radiation Protection & Measurements.” Now, you may not think that “six-fold” is such a big deal, but if you peak beneath that seven-letter word, you may begin to feel a bit of a tiny sweat coming up.

Each of those innocent CT scans zapped the patient with between 100 and 1,000 times the radiation in a normal x-ray. So, should you be concerned? Well, you might begin to feel queasy if you knew that radiation and x-rays might be stored in the body but it is also well-documented, according to the NYT article, that “children exposed to multiple CT scans were found to be three times more likely to develop leukemia and brain cancer.” Now is it making more sense to limit these types of procedures when there isn’t clear evidence that they are absolutely vital to save life and limb?

Should these imaging procedures be “normal” under any but dire circumstances? One group that is involved in spreading the word about breast cancer prevention in women indicated that CT scans are one of the prime causes of CA of the breast. Are they wrong? Could be, but are you willing to take that risk? 

How many Americans get CT scans each year? Statistics say one in 10 Americans get at least one scan a year, but many patients get multiple scans per year. Does that make sense to anyone if you know the true risk? Ah, you say, that’s just hysterical Dr. Farrell, the psychologist, who’s going off the deep end. Sure, I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’m not a physician. But you look at the statistics, listen to the experts who study cancer rates and the connection between radiation from multiple sources and then you decide. 

I have no investment here, but a lot of other people do and they may decide that you should have a CT scan “just to be sure there’s nothing we’ve missed.” One thing I think you do want to miss is the chance of developing cancer now or in the future and becoming one of those grim statistics.

Am I advocating for the dismissal of radiation imaging? Of course I’m not. What I’m saying is that just as you would limit your drinking, your use of prescription medications or even vitamin supplements to a safe level, you should consider medical imaging. It may not always be easy, but arm yourself with the facts and then be involved in any decisions to have or not have a CT scan.

Consider this final bit of information from the aforementioned article in the NYT. According to the National Cancer Institute, “CT scans conducted in 2007 will cause a projected 29,000 excess cancer cases and 14,500 excess deaths over the lifetime of those exposed.” That is a lot of needless mortality in the cause of saving our health, wouldn’t you say?