X-rays are a major cause of cancer
We Americans are the most over-X-rayed people on earth, and the heavy doses of radiation we get are a major, and growing, cause of cancer. A British study suggests nearly one percent of all cancer cases in the United States (0.9 percent, to be exact) are due to diagnostic X-rays. That's a full 50 percent more than in the UK, where about 0.6 percent of cancers are caused by doctors taking pictures. The Brits don't subject patients to as many X-rays as we do.
Doctors, of course, would have us believe the benefits of X-rays outweigh the "small" increase in risk. One cancer out of a hundred may not sound like much, but just imagine if, say, a supplement like C0Q10 were found to be the cause of one percent of all cancers. It would be pulled off the shelves so fast your head would spin, and there would be no talk of balancing the dangers with the benefits (which happen to be enormous for this supplement).
What does radiation do to you? Let's take a look...
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We're in the middle of an X-ray epidemic
American medicine has gone X-ray crazy. The total amount of X-radiation we receive went up six times from 1990 to 2006, according to the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement (2009, Report 160).
The New England Journal of Medicine says CT scans alone account for half the medical imaging dose we get. The article estimates that CT scans cause something like four out of every thousand cancers (Issue 357). The number of patients getting very high doses doubled every year from 1996 to 2010, says the Journal of the American Medical Association.
A recent study of people who had cancer when they were children demonstrates the dangers of radiation. More than 95 percent of them suffered from chronic health problems by the time they were 45, including lung, hearing and heart problems.
You see, radiation damage is long term and shows up decades later. As Dr. Melissa Hudson, one of the study's authors, puts it, "Doctors may not be thinking about a heart-valve disorder in someone in his 30s, but if you had radiation to your chest at 10, this is something to think about."
The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, are based on detailed physicals conducted on 1,700 adults who were treated for cancer at St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis from ten to 40 years ago.
The researchers found that the parts of the body treated then are precisely the ones that are falling apart now. There's strong evidence that conventional cancer treatments accelerate the aging process of organs. The damage is profound, but it's not evident right away.
Adult survivors who received radiation to the brain as children suffer from thinking and memory problems typical of much older people. Those who were subjected to chest X-rays are likely to have heart-valve changes, including scarring and leaky valves. For this group of people whose average age was 33, "the health problems were considered striking" (the Wall Street Journal's choice of words, not mine.)
These people were cancer survivors — you could argue their treatment was successful. But two points are worth making. One is that alternative treatments could have done the job gently, with no damage, instead of the lifetime health problems these young people now face. There are something like 395,000 childhood cancer survivors in our country. This is a vast tragedy.
The second point is that those of us who just receive routine diagnostic X-rays — not cancer treatment — face similar risks.
Everyday X-rays and your risk of cancer
To be fair, the doses of radiation used to treat cancer patients are vastly great than those you receive in diagnostic X-rays. But X-ray damage is permanent and cumulative, so all those "little, routine" X-rays add up. Once the damage is done, it never goes away. And each time you have another X-ray, you add to it. Given the escalating use of X-rays in our medical system, the problem can only get worse.
When I was young, I had many chronic health problems myself and received tons of X-rays, so this is personal with me. The X-rays never turned up anything useful. The results were always negative. The problems I was trying to solve — chronic headaches, chronic body pain and fatigue, terrible GI-tract upset, unhealthy skin — were all eventually solved by alternative medicine.
My health problems were mostly due to the Standard American Diet (SAD), consisting of sugar and other refined carbs, hormone-and-drug-fed beef and chicken, heaven knows what preservatives and other chemicals, over-cooked vegetables, no fiber and a desperate lack of nutrients. X-rays were never going to identify any of those problems, but if you walk into a doctor's office with head pain or back pain or intestinal problems, you're probably going to get an X-ray.
I have plenty of company when it comes to being over-X-rayed. It's normal, and the consequences are a disaster. A study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute found, for example, that women who had had an average of 25 back X-rays had a 70 percent greater risk of dying of breast cancer than the general population. If you think nobody ever has 25 X-rays, ask a friend with long-term chronic pain. I had four back X-rays that I can remember, maybe more.
A recent study at the University of Hong Kong found that the risk of soft-tissue sarcoma is doubled if a person receives an amount of radiation equivalent to two CT head scans. One of the study's authors, Dr. Dino Samartzis, said, "The study has highlighted that even low to moderate levels of exposure are enough to cause genetic mutation."
Yup, I had a brain scan, too, for those mystery headaches I used to have, plus a full set of sinus X-rays.
In one recent year, 2008, a study found that 1.65 million children received a CT scan during a visit to an emergency room — five times as many as in 1994. A CT scan is equivalent to three to seven years of absorption of the amount of radiation we get naturally from the environment — all packed into a few minutes. A child exposed to just two or three scans faces three times the risk of developing brain cancer later in life.
A couple of years ago, TV star Dr. Mehmet Oz set off a mini panic when he noted that thyroid cancer is the fastest-growing cancer in women. As one of the causes he cited the harmful effects of radiation from sources like dental X-rays and mammograms.
Thyroid cancer is pretty rare. It accounts for only about 3 cancers out a hundred in women. It's also highly treatable and nearly everyone who gets it survives. But who needs any kind of cancer? Your dentist should X-ray no more than one or two of your teeth a year. If he's doing a full X-ray every year, get a new dentist.
One of the strongest voices against our X-ray mania was the late Dr. John Gofman, M.D., Ph.D. and Professor at the University of California at Berkeley. He wrote six books on the effects of ionizing radiation on health, his last title being Radiation from Medical Procedures in the Pathogenesis of Cancer and Ischemic Heart Disease. In this 700-page tome, he presented strong evidence that medical X-rays not only play an important role in causing half of all cancer cases, but also cause 60 percent of heart disease cases.
X-rays are not the only causes of these diseases (see my previous comments about diet) but they are major causes. Preventing cancer is the fine art of trimming your exposure a little bit here and a little bit there, wherever you have the opportunity. Never say, "It's just one little X-ray" — especially if you've already dozens during your life up to this point.
Sometimes you need an X-ray to diagnose a medical problem, but they should generally be avoided and resisted. This newsletter is on record against mammograms, the most common unnecessary (and largely useless) use of X-rays. Consider thermography. It's a better way to diagnose breast cancer.
When a doctor urges (or orders) an X-ray, ask whether an MRI or ultrasound is possible instead. These diagnostic tests involve no radiation at all. Refuse X-rays that are part of a general physical "just to make sure everything's all right." If you don't have any symptoms, why have an X-ray?
One thing that's under your control is your exposure to natural radiation from radon. Check your home and, if possible, your work place to ensure you're not being irradiated every day without even knowing it. As bad as medical X-rays are, radon accounts for an enormous portion of the public's exposure to radiation. 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year are attributed to radon, second only to smoking.
Health Disclaimer: The information provided above is not intended as personal medical advice or instructions. You should not take any action affecting your health without consulting a qualified health professional. The authors and publishers of the information above are not doctors or health-caregivers. The authors and publishers believe the information to be accurate but its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. There is some risk associated with ANY cancer treatment, and the reader should not act on the information above unless he or she is willing to assume the full risk.
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