American Citizens As Guinea Pigs
Written by Kelleigh Nelson
Published: 08 February 2011
Part 8 X-ray Computed Tomography or CT scan
Since its introduction in the 1970s, CT Scans have become more and more popular as diagnostic tools. While the patient is receiving the three dimensional scan, outside of the room, a technician reads the 3-D image of the interior of the body on a computer.
CT scans save lives, but they also cause cancer. Of the 70 million scans done last year alone, double the number of a decade ago, at least 23 million of them were unnecessary. Fifteen thousand (15,000) Americans will die of cancer from the CT scans given in a single year, predict scientists from the National Cancer Institute.
Approximately four years ago I received an abdominal CT scan. Had I known what I know now, I would never have agreed to the procedure. I had gastritis, which is an inflammation of the lining of the stomach. However, the Gastroenterologist had, only weeks before, done an endoscopy on me and my stomach was fine. So, he assumed incorrectly that it couldn’t be gastritis and sent me for a CT scan of my pancreas and liver. The very expensive and high radiation scan showed I had gastritis. My doctor still didn’t believe it and because I don’t believe doctors are gods, I chose another physician. Yet, I understand that these tools are used by physicians to avoid lawsuits. They practice defensive medicine to save themselves from trial lawyers.
Good Housekeeping magazine, CBS, USA Today and countless other media outlets have recently exposed the new statistics regarding CT scans and cancer. How many decades have we heard that radiation causes cancer? It’s been even before the 1940s that scientists knew this. Previous articles in this series have exposed same. Yet, the medical field uses radiation (allegedly in small doses) to check for breast cancer, (mammography), dental problems (x-ray), broken bones (x-ray), and CT scans of the head, chest, abdomen, and full body. They promise to cut your risk of dying from cancer, yet full body CT scans themselves pose a real cancer risk according to the latest research.
The question is, “How much radiation is too much?” One CT head scan equals 30 chest x-rays, one CT chest scan equals 119 chest x-rays, one CT Abdomen scan equals 234 chest x-rays. The experts tell us that the risk of cancer from one CT scan is small, one in 1000. However, chronic conditions like kidney stones or Crohn’s disease or multiple health problems can have numerous CT scans ordered early in life and the radiation starts adding up and the end result is likely a cancer death.
X-rays from a single full-body CT scan give a dose of radiation equal to cancer-associated radiation doses in A-bomb survivors according to David J. Brenner, PhD, director of Columbia University’s center for radiological research. Brenner says if you have a single full-body CT scan in your life, your risks are very minimal, maybe one out of 1,200 would die of radiation induced cancer.
However, if you’re doing this type of screening on a regular basis, then the radiation doses add up and the risks become quite high. Brenner says the radiation dose of one full-body CT scan is close to the doses received by Japanese survivors of atomic bombs. Each successive CT scan adds up more exposure.
For several years now freestanding clinics have been offering full-body CT scans to anyone who wants one. Ads for these clinics promise early detection of dangerous diseases such as cancer and heart disease. The idea is that a full-body CT scan will find tumors and other signs of disease in their earliest most treatable stages – before any symptoms of illness. This puts healthy individuals at a higher risk for cancer in 10 to 20 years. Nevertheless, CT scans are an aid in defining specific problems when symptoms are evident and no cause can be found in other diagnostics.
The come-ons are quite deceiving. One says, “A $99 lung scan could save your life! It’s a closer look that could make all the difference.” Another says, “Help save your life in seven minutes.
HeartSaver CT can uncover heart disease…years before you exhibit symptoms.” And another, “You don’t know what’s inside until you look!” Unfortunately, unnecessary scans and radiation exposure like this can end up killing you.
In a recent survey of more than 100 physicians, 74% of those questioned significantly underestimated a patient’s risk of getting cancer from a single abdominal-pelvic CT scan. Only 17% said the risk of radiation influenced their decision to use CT scan. They are still viewing CT scans as innocuous as other radiological procedures, like regular bone x-rays, when in fact, the radiation dose with CT is hundreds of times higher. They aren’t even considering cancers that could be caused down the road from using these diagnostic scans. Another survey found that over 50% of the scans done were unnecessary. A Dutch study found that in roughly 50% of patients, CT heart scans had identified coronary blockages that actually weren’t there! Of course these imaging centers are profit centers for clinics and hospitals. Even doctors who aren’t radiologists have installed CT scanners in their offices. The revenues from insurance and Medicare induce the usage of scans for profit.
Sadly our own government has basically caused this situation with the passage of bills 30 years ago stating no one could be refused medical treatment for indigence. The cost to physicians, clinics, hospitals and emergency rooms skyrocketed and of course has been passed on to those who do have insurance and do pay their bills and the result is higher costs. As well, the medical community itself suffers losses and thus the desire to find ways wherein funds can be made in one area to compensate for losses in other areas.
In CT colon screens, as in colonoscopies, one still has to go through the wretched prep, but instead of being put under and having a probe inserted, many patients opt for the CT screening for colon cancer. However, this “virtual” colonoscopy is not as effective in finding and eliminating small precancerous polyps. Since there are cases of small polyps quickly becoming cancerous and the much higher risk of radiation from the scan, plus the need to still be sedated and have the polyps removed should they be seen on the scan, Medicare announced last year they would no longer cover the cost of virtual colonoscopies.
Cedar Sinai Medical Center in LA was under investigation for exposing patients to extremely high radiation overdoses resulting in patients losing their hair and reddening of their skin. The Cedar Sinai radiation overdose investigation focused on more than 200 patients who were given CT brain scans used to diagnose strokes. Cedar Sinai did their own investigation and what they found was shocking. The CT brain scan machine had been set to the higher dosage level from February of 2008 to August of 2009. The 206 patients who received CT brain scans in that time were exposed to eight times the normal radiation dosage levels. As a result of this finding, the FDA sent a nationwide alert to all hospitals to check their CT brain scan procedures and settings warning that undetected overdoses put “patients at increased risk for long-term radiation effects.” It is still unclear today whether the machine settings were the result of medical negligence or a deliberate act intended to expose these patients to overdoses of radiation.
A class action lawsuit has been filed by these patients and according to the lawyer handling the suit, the amount of radiation during a single CT scan can range from 1,000 to 10,000 millirems, depending on the machine and the settings. Evidence suggests that Japanese survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who were a mile or two from ground zero received about 3,000 millirems on average. The Cedar Sinai patients received eight times the normal dose. By the way, Cedar-Sinai is certified by the Joint Commission as a primary stroke center and is listed as one of the U.S. news and World Report’s best hospitals in 11 categories, including neurology and neurosurgery.
I doubt this is the only facility in the United States that has overdosed its patients. One patient stated that the only thing that happened after the overdose was discovered was a phone call from the facility to find out if he’d had hair loss.
Two studies in Archives in Internal Medicine show that CT scans deliver far more radiation than has been believed and may contribute to 29,000 new cancers each year, along with 14,500 deaths. One study led by the National Cancer Institute used existing exposure data to estimate how many cancers might be caused by CT scans. Another study in the journal suggested the problem is even worse. Researchers found that people may be exposed to up to four times as much radiation as estimated by earlier studies. Older studies relied on dummies with sensors, but new studies used 1,119 patients at four San Francisco area hospitals. Based on those higher measurements, a patient could get as much radiation from one CT scan as 74 mammograms or 442 chest X-rays.
Do I trust the AMA or FDA to monitor these various CT scans throughout all the different hospitals and clinics in the United States…my answer is obvious…NO! There are, however, a few things you can do to protect yourself.
- Ask why it’s necessary and what the doctor hopes to learn that can’t be learned via another diagnostic source.
2.Check out the clinic or hospital ratings by the American College of Radiology. You can search accredited clinics in your area.
3. Request a shield to protect your breasts, reproductive organs and thyroid.
4. If you’re pregnant, just say NO!
5. Ask even more questions especially if it’s your child.
6. Keep a list of all your radiation tests to give to any doctor asking for another. Lifetime radiation buildup is dangerous!
7. Try to get a digital version of your completed scan to give to other physicians so you do not have to repeat the scan.
I will also mention that I am not against new technology that can save lives. I have a friend who had to have CT body scans because she was so ill and they found a contained cancer in one of her kidneys and removed the entire kidney. The CT scans she had saved her life. Nevertheless, this is not a diagnostic tool that should be used yearly or even for a checkup of heart, lung, or body.
It is a tool that should only be used for severe symptoms and when no other diagnostic tool will give the proper answer. Sadly, once again, the American citizen who is all too trusting of the medical industry has ended up being irradiated by machines that have no oversight and are used way too frequently for a diagnostic tool.
1 – Good Housekeeping Magazine, July 2010 “The Test That Can Give You Cancer”
2 – John Esterbrook article, “CT Scan Radiation Risks?” August 31, 2004, CBSnews.com
3 – Cheryl Clark, “Health Leaders Media,” October 12, 2009, Cedar Sinai
© 2010 Kelleigh Nelson – All Rights Reserved
Kelleigh Nelson has been researching the Christian right and their connections to the left, the new age, and cults since 1975. Formerly an executive producer for three different national radio talk show hosts, she was adept at finding and scheduling a variety of wonderful guests for her radio hosts. She and her husband live in Knoxville, TN, and she has owned her own wholesale commercial bakery since 1990. Prior to moving to Tennessee, Kelleigh was marketing communications and advertising manager for a fortune 100 company in Ohio. Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, she was a Goldwater girl with high school classmate, Hillary Rodham, in Park Ridge, Illinois. Kelleigh is well acquainted with Chicago politics and was working in downtown Chicago during the 1968 Democratic convention riots.