The diagnostic tools available to modern medicine, such as X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, etc., allow medical doctors to look right inside your body to see what is going on. They are undoubtedly extremely valuable, and at the same time, none of them are completely without health risks. Your doctor probably isn’t going to discuss the benefit / cost ratio of diagnostic testing with you, but just how much radiation are you being exposed to?
If radiation exposure exceeds 5 mSv, the risk for cancer increases over the general risk in patients not exposed to radiation. And at this point, the average person is exposed to 6.2 mSv /year. Where does this come from? One airport security scan = 0.001 mSv. Living near a nuclear power plant = 0.01 mSv /year. One dental X-ray = 0.014 mSv. One cross-country plane trip = 0.03 -0.05 mSv. One chest X-ray = 0.1 -0.5 mSv. One mammogram = 0.3 mSv. One heart CT scan = 2.0 -4.0 mSv. One barium X-ray = 3.0 – 8.0 mSv. One full body CT scan = 6.0 -18.0 mSv. Smoking one pack of cigerettes a day for a year = 13 mSv. Cardiac catheterization, coronary angiogram, other heart X-ray studies = 50 mSv. Limit for nuclear plant workers = average 20 mSv for 5 years.
While the risk from a single CT scan isn’t that significant, patients should be aware of the levels of radiation exposure they are getting. Especially if you are, say, an airplane crew member who smokes! But there have been enough bad health complications due to overexposure to radiation from CT scans that California now requires that the radiation dose be recorded in medical records. In addition, facilities will soon be required to report adverse effects to the CA Dep’t of Public Health.
Cancer rates keep increasing all the time. While everyone cheerfully fund raises to “find a cure”, the actual answer to cancer is “find the prevention”. And that is probably the most taboo topic in American politics and health care. Because the truth is that cancer occurs when the body is exposed to too many carcinogens. So the actual answer is in eliminating those poisons. We need to stop adulterating our food, water, body care, household, and industrial environments with man made chemical toxin. We need to pay attention to radiation exposure and our ever increasing levels of background electromagnetic pollution. It is a completely solvable problem, which no one wants to solve, because vested interests benefit from the status quo.