Once in a while we all need to stop and think is what we are doing causing more harm then good? This is never more true or important as in healthcare. Specifically oncology where patients are rapidly thrust into numerous doctors appointments, lab tests, x-rays and CT scans while trying to process the news of a cancer diagnosis. Its often so overwhelming they just don't have time to think and consider the PROs and CONs of each step. Most people are focused on destroying the cancer as quickly as possible but have failed to consider that the very way that you assess if the cancer has changed, grown or shrunk could be causing more cancer down the road? You might think thats impossible! How could the CT scans and x-rays that everyone is using to watch cancer be that harmful? Everyone is getting them all the time. In fact, 1 in 10 americans will get a CT scan in there lifetime. Just because everyone is doing it doesn't mean its safe.
CT scans actually expose you to up to 1000 times more radiation than a single X-ray. X-rays are not benign. They produce ionizing radiation (different than UV or microwave) is well know carcinogen. The amount of radiation in a single CT scan is enough to cause cancer and some cancer patients have them every 3-6 months. A number of clinical trials have shown that multiple CT scans increase the risk of leukaemia and brain cancer in children. Another trial found that in lymphoma patients 8 CT scans increased the risk of getting another type of cancer by double compare to those that received less than 8 scans. They also found that the risk increased by 3% with each scan. 8 scans are fairly easy to accumulate if you are being monitored every 3 months. To put this into perspective approximately 2 to 3 abdominal CTs give the same radiation exposure as experienced by Hiroshima survivors. Do I have your attention now?
So next time you are told to get a CT scan I suggest you think about "How will the results change my treatment approach?" Don't be afraid to ask questions and work through the treatment plan with your doctor. Try to think 2-3 steps ahead and consider how future treatments will be directed by each scan. Choosing wisely is good website that lists some of the most important questions to ask each medical specialist and the most overused testing.
Photo credit: Ben Jones; nytimes.com/2014/01/31 - we-are-giving-ourselves-cancer.
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