Jan
09
2016

Safety Of CT Scans And X-Rays

In the December 2015 issue of the LifeExtension Magazine Mr. William Faloon provided an interesting editorial that outlined the dangers of X-rays, particularly of CT scans. Physicians often order CT scans to decrease their medico-legal risks or because they own part of the CT scan equipment.

Various publications give estimates of unnecessary CT scans in the order of 30% to 50%.

Brief history of X-ray machine inventions         

Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, a German physicist was investigating electromagnetic wave lengths and detected electromagnetic waves in the range of X-rays. He won the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901 for his achievement.

  1. Marie Curie and her husband were experimenting with X-rays producing machines and developed the prototype of an X-ray machine that could be used for diagnostic purposes to visualize broken bones or the typical findings of pneumonia or tuberculosis on chest X-rays.
  2. Thomas Edison was fascinated by this type of work and invented the fluoroscopy X-ray machine where the doctor could get instant feedback by watching on a screen when a needle was inserted. A helper, Clarence Dally who worked in Edison’s lab developed radiation sickness from X-ray overdoses and died. This haunted Edison for the rest of his life and he quit experimenting with X-rays.
  3. The CT scan was invented in the 1980’s and was immediately used for difficult to diagnose clinical cases. It was not advertised that the dosage of one abdominal CT scan was about 400-times stronger than that of a simple lung X-ray. This means that the danger of developing cancer as a late complication due to a CT scan also had a 400-fold higher risk. High sensitivity CT scans using lower X-ray doses have been invented, but they are not always available. It is simpler for the technician to keep the X-ray dose at the higher dosage setting than adjust the CT scanner to the body mass index of patients. A child should not receive the dosage of an adult, but again it is simpler to keep the CT dosage dial in the same setting. This is an unnecessary X-ray overexposure for the patient.

History of cancer complications from radiation

When Mrs. Curie was experimenting with X-rays and radioactive elements she was not aware of the potentially deadly effects of radiation. She died in 1934 at the age of only 67 of aplastic leukemia from unprotected exposure to radiation.

Unfortunately there were many radiation disasters throughout history that made it clear that X-rays can cause cancer years after the original exposure.

The nuclear bombs of Nagasaki and Hiroshima are ugly reminders how ionizing radiation affects people in terms of getting cancer even years after the initial exposure.

The Chernobyl disaster exposed a lot of people not only in the Chernobyl area (the present state of the Ukraine), but also in Belorussia.

The latest experience comes from the Fukushima disaster in Japan, where authorities initially were slow to respond. Now they have a regular screening in place that identifies youngsters at risk for developing cancers and leukemia.

What all of these disasters have taught medical researchers is that cancerous transformation of tissues can occur even decades after prior exposure. At present there is no safe test that will predict with certainty when a cancer will develop.

Radiation exposure from various X-ray procedures

Because cases of cancer depend on the dosage used for diagnostic purposes, I am going to list dosages for common X-ray procedures, compared to a chest X-ray (modified according to article in the December 2015 LifeExtension Magazine):

Diagnostic             Effective dose (mSv)             Number of Chest               Time to reach dose from                                                          

procedure                                                               X-rays needed to                background radiation

                                                                               get equivalent dose

Chest X-ray                        0.02                                              1                                                 2.4 days

(PA film)

Skull X-ray                           0.1                                               5                                                 12 days

Lower back                          1.5                                             75                                                182 days

Kidney X-rays                      3                                               150                                                 1.0 year

Stomach and

intestine exam                      6                                               300                                                 2.0 years

Colon exam (Barium)           8                                               400                                                  2.7 years

CT scan head                       2                                               100                                                 243 days

CT scan abdomen                8                                               400                                                  2.7 years

You see from this overview that a CT scan generally has a higher X-ray dosage than a plain X-ray, but internal organ X-rays (stomach/intestine and colon X-rays) also use a high dosage of X-rays.

Balance the patient’s need for an X-ray with the risk from it

A CT scan has the ability to image soft tissues, bone and blood vessels, which makes it a useful tool to depict bone fractures, distinguish between hemorrhagic and ischemic stroke and visualize an abscess in the soft tissue. On the other hand there are real concerns about radiation exposure and possible cancer development years after the tests have been done. With any medical procedure physicians have no problems accepting a risk versus benefit analysis. However radiation history showed that physicians were totally oblivious to the possibility of radiation being able to cause cancers until only recently. In the aftermaths of Hiroshima and Nagasaki it became clear that even decades after exposure new cancer cases were found among exposed people. Most recently with children and adults exposed to radiation from Fukushima it is clear that thyroid cancers are much more frequent in exposed children and adults than in non-exposed controls.

Researches compared over 680,000 children and adults born in the 1980’s who had at least one CT scan done with a similar large, matched group who were never exposed to a CT scan (Ref.1). The ones who had their CT scan in childhood had a risk of 24% to develop any kind of cancer. If the same person had more than one CT scan the cancer risk was even higher: 35% higher in the first 4 years of exposure; 25% higher at 4 to 9 years and 14% higher still at 10 to 14 years. A group who had their first CT scan exposure 15 years or more ago still had a 24% risk of developing cancer compared to controls who never had a CT scan. What type of cancers did they get? It is a vary varied list: solid tumors in the digestive tract, urinary tract, brain, ovary/uterus, skin and thyroid; among blood cancers they got leukemia and lymphomas. There were also other cancers that were less frequently encountered.

If follows from this:

  1. If another study is available that can show an abscess, then an ultrasound that does not utilize ionizing radiation would be a superior test to use!
  2. An MRI scan of the brain is superior in stroke patients to distinguish between hemorrhagic and ischemic stroke than a CT scan.
  3. Plain X-rays with less radiation exposure than CT scans often show bone fractures well enough for the orthopedic surgeon to be able to say whether or not a surgical intervention is necessary or conventional management with casts is sufficient. As can be seen from the table above there is 20-fold less X-ray exposure than with a CT scan.

Protection from ionizing radiation

In the fall-out of Chernobyl and Fukushima researchers have gone back to some fundamental observations. Certain supplements have been shown to be cancer protective.

Four plant-derived remedies are useful in fighting radiation damage from CT scans or X-rays.

  1. Blueberries or blueberry extract has been shown to repair DNA damage from radiation.
  2. Ginkgo biloba, a well-known botanical is capable of scavenging free radicals (reactive oxygen species) produced by radiation. Ginkgo biloba has been shown to reduce abnormal chromosomes by 60% in previously radiation-exposed individuals compared to non-treated controls. During the Chernobyl disaster blood samples from Armenian workers who cleaned up the nuclear reactor had 17.9 abnormal chromosomes per 100 cells; after 120mg of ginkgo biloba for 2 months the cells with chromosome damage were reduced to 5.7 per 100 cells. These benefits persisted for 7 months, but after 1 year 33% of workers had abnormal chromosomes again.
  3. Lemon balm extract is used in the meat industry to keep meat from oxidizing. Lemon balm has three stabilizing functions regarding ionizing radiation: it boosts the levels of an enzyme called superoxide dismutase, which is an essential component of the body’s system to protect itself from ionizing radiation. The second effect of lemon balm is to stabilize lipid cell membranes, which prevents direct cell damage following radiation. The third effect of lemon balm is protection of DNA similar to blueberries. In one study radiation technologists were given 1.5 grams/100ml of lemon balm tea twice daily for 30 days. Judging by various cell markers these radiation technicians experienced between 10% and 61% of lower radiation damage on their cells.
  4. Spirulina extract stimulates white cell, monocyte and red cell production following exposure to radiation. Research has shown that 4 grams of Spirulina per day for 21 days following the Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion given to youngsters normalized their blood values and they survived. Other research has shown that Spirulina stimulates the granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), which stimulates bone marrow precursor cells, the precursors of immune cells.
Safety Of CT Scans And X-Rays

Safety Of CT Scans And X-Rays

Conclusion

The medical profession has belittled radiation damage, until the landmark study of 2013 emerged and the consequences were described above. Now there is no question that the radiation dosage of CT scans has been linked to causation of cancer. The decision to order a CT scan should be done cautiously and needs to take into consideration the seriousness of the patient’s condition, the benefit of what CT scan findings would show and the risk that this CT scan will impose on the patient. Alternative non-ionizing tests such, as ultrasounds and MRI scans should be considered. If a CT scan cannot be avoided, blueberries, Ginkgo biloba, lemon balm and Spirulina should be given at least 5 days before and 5 days after the CT scan to minimize the ionizing radiation effect on the body’s tissues, which in turn will reduce the risk of developing cancer later. It is important for the patient to be informed. Anybody who is told that he or she needs a CT scan should not be afraid of asking questions about alternative investigation techniques.

References

Ref. 1: Mathews JD et al. “Cancer risk in 680,000 people exposed to computed tomography scans in childhood or adolescence: data linkage study of 11 million Australians.” BMJ. 2013; 346:f2360.