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Medical X-Rays and Increased Cancer Risk
Anthony Chapdelaine, Jr., MD, MSPH, Exec. Dir./Sec.*
The increased cancer risk from diagnostic and therapeutic x-rays is known, although the degree of risk is controversial. The National Cancer Institute reports that 29,000 future cancer cases can be directly liked to 72 million CT scans performed in the US since 2007.1
Although the so-called “low-dose” x-ray scans pose a finite risk of inducing cancer, the cumulative effect of numerous life-time exposures to radiation is the issue that concerns some medical doctors and scientists (Goff ).
Some doctors encourage patients to undergo “whole-body” CT (CAT ) scans as a screening tool. Unfortunately, a “whole-body” CT scan (CAT scan) unnecessarily exposes the patient to a large dose of radiation, increasing the patient’s risk of cancer without providing a compensating benefit. One whole-body scan exposes the patient to as much radiation as survivors who lived 1 ½ miles from the center of the atomic bomb explosion at Hiroshima. One CT scan of the mid-section area exposes a patient to as much radiation as they would receive from 150 to 1,100 conventional x-rays.1
Until changes in the technology decrease the radiation exposure and cancer risk to clinically negligible levels it is best to avoid medical imaging from x-rays unless there is no suitable diagnostic replacement and the doctor explains what he or she will do differently depending on the results.
Palliative x-rays, used for pain or tumor shrinkage in end-stage cancer, may be necessary.
Dental x-rays are often overused by dentists. Some research suggests that patients should limit bitewing x-rays to every 24-36 months, and get full-mouth x-rays every 10 years. For children especially, dental and CT scans are rarely needed even before orthodontic procedures.2
* The Coalition for Advanced Cancer Treatment and Prevention a project of The National Fund for Alternative Medicine
- “Do CT Scans Cause Cancer?” Scientific American, July 01, 2013.
- Consumer Report, January 2015