X-ray Health Risks – and now Airport Scans!

Posted on November 27, 2010


X-ray Dangers
Many people don’t realize the cumulative and/or acute dangers of medical diagnostic scans and x-rays involving ionizing radiation. X-rays, CT scans, mammograms, dental x-rays, fluroscopies, and some other scans, all feature this type of radiation in highly variable exposure ranges. Numerous experts including Dr. Andrew Weil, well known pioneer of integrative medicine, have stated categorically that “there is no safe dose of ionizing radiation” since it directly, and indirectly via free-radical formation, damages human DNA. DNA damage is the root cause of all cancers.

Mainstream medicine often defends the standard application of these technologies siting them as essential in both preventive screening and diagnosis.

It is an underpublicized fact, however, that even the most mainstream medical authorities recognize that between 2 and 6 percent of all cancers are caused directly by radiation from medical scanning. It must then be considered that medical radiation is be a major contributing factor in a much higher percentage of cancers, since cancer etiology is almost always multifactorial.

A single case of cancer is almost always a result of innumerable contributing factors over a lifetime, it is very difficult, in the linear “evidence based” biomedical view of the human organism, to confidently ascribe causality to a single factor. This inherent complexity is an almost insurmountable confounding factor in proving any one technology, chemical, or medical treatment as “safe” or “unsafe” for human health.

Stated simply, each and every radiation exposure contributes to your overall cancer risk.

Many have also argued that unavoidable “background radiation”, the constant low level radiation exposures found everywhere on the planet, put us at equal or greater risk, and are of equal or greater cumulative dosage, and so medical radiation is of limited concern except in rare cases of extremely high exposures. X-ray radiation dosages are often directly compared to the increased background radiation exposures experienced during air travel (a result of reduced atmospheric buffering).

This argument is tantamount to proposing that it’s safe to put your hand in a campfire for one minute, because you are exposed to the same amount of heat energy by spending one full day in the sun. This clearly is faulty logic.

Radiation Exposures Compared:
A 7 hour flight provides about 1/5 the radiation of a standard chest xray. A standard chest CT scan is equal to 70 chest xrays, or 2450 hours/102 full days in flight, if my math is right.

Not only are the radiation exposures involved in medical scans much, much higher than any normal environmental exposures, but they are absorbed by the body in a much shorter timeframe, minutes or seconds, and so the body’s ability to neutralize free radicals and repair DNA is under grave and unusual stress. This is precisely how many cancers begin – though symptoms may not appear for many years.

Airport Scans: Full-Body “Backscatter X-ray”
It seems that more people are much more concerned about having their privacy violated, rather that the potential health effects of these scans.

USAPA(US Airline Pilots Association) position on the scans:
Pilots should NOT submit to AIT screening. The TSA has offered no credible specifications for the radiation emitted by these machines. As pilots, we are exposed to more radiation as a function of our normal duties than nearly every other category of worker in the United States. Based on currently available medical information, USAPA has determined that frequent exposure to TSA-operated scanner devices may subject pilots to significant health risks.

The American Pilots Association states:
The X-ray dose from these devices has often been compared in the media to the cosmic ray exposure inherent to airplane travel or that of a chest X-ray. However, this comparison is very misleading: both the air travel cosmic ray exposure and chest X- rays have much higher X-ray energies and the health consequences are appropriately understood in terms of the whole body volume dose. In contrast, these new airport scanners are largely depositing their energy into the skin and immediately adjacent tissue, and since this is such a small fraction of body weight/vol, possibly by one to two orders of magnitude, the real dose to the skin is now high.

These concerns are best elucidated in a letter to the US President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy signed by four prominent UCSF (University of California, San Francisco) scientists in April (2010)
Following a detailed explanation of how the scanners focus all of their xray potential into the skin and surface tissues of the body, rather than diffusing the radiation dose throughout the entire body, as with most other radiation sources, they state the following:
Our colleagues at UCSF, dermatologists and cancer experts, raise specific important
• A) The large population of older travelers, >65 years of age, is particularly at risk from the mutagenic effects of the X-rays based on the known biology of melanocyte aging.
• B) A fraction of the female population is especially sensitive to mutagenesis-provoking radiation leading to breast cancer. Notably, because these women, who have defects in DNA repair mechanisms, are particularly prone to cancer, X-ray mammograms are not performed on them. The dose to breast tissue beneath the skin represents a similar risk.
• C) Blood (white blood cells) perfusing the skin is also at risk.
• D) The population of immunocompromised individuals–HIV and cancer patients (see above) is likely to be at risk for cancer induction by the high skin dose.
• E) The risk of radiation emission to children and adolescents does not appear to have been fully evaluated.
• F) The policy towards pregnant women needs to be defined once the theoretical risks to the fetus are determined.
• G) Because of the proximity of the testicles to skin, this tissue is at risk for sperm mutagenesis.
• H) Have the effects of the radiation on the cornea and thymus been determined?
” (note; these tissues are known to be extremely sensitive to radiation in various forms including ionizing radiation but also that from microwave ovens and cellphones.)

The goal here is not to create panic and fear. I think there is power in knowledge.
My personal response to this knowledge is the following:

– I now refuse all x-rays and medical scans involving radiation unless there is good reason to believe that it is an essential diagnostic tool in a given situation. (ie; broken bones, mystery dental pain, etc.) I do not, for example, accept standard dental or chest x-rays for screening purposes. I think that doctors should be much more selective in their use of x-ray technologies, and that patients and doctors should be better informed of the risks and strongly favor non-irradiating alternative diagnostic tools whenever possible.

– I refuse to submit to any airport scans of my body involving radiation. I personally, would rather be groped or even strip searched than be unnecessarily irradiated. I actively discourage others from submitting to these scans and explain the actual risks.

– There are foods, herbs, and supplements that help eradicate free radicals, protect cells from damage, and encourage cell and DNA repair. These can be chosen based on an individual’s health history, genetic and constitutional predispositions, carcinogen exposure history, and in a situation-specific therapeutic manner. For example, when I fly I take double or triple doses of protective vitamins and herbs.

I realize that these can be complex decisions that must be examined on an individual basis. No professional should make that decision for you.

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