If you don’t already follow Jane Brody’s “Personal Health” column in the NY Times, you might consider starting to. She discusses every imaginable health-related topic with both balance and a practical angle. Her most recent article examines the fallout from many modern medical tests, namely their “ability to damage DNA and, 10 to 20 years later, to cause cancer. CT scans alone, which deliver 100 to 500 times the radiation associated with an ordinary X-ray and now provide three-fourths of Americans’ radiation exposure, are believed to account for 1.5 percent of all cancers that occur in the United States.”
This is a personal matter for me because radiation killed my beloved mother-in-law, Arlene, in 2002. It wasn’t the medical testing, but radiation treatments to deal with lung cancer, that caused DNA changes leading to her ultimate death from secondary cancer. The initial treatments did “cure” the lung cancer and give her many additional years of life–and it’s not like our family had any other options at the time—but the lesson is that, as Brody remarks, “radiation, like alcohol, is a double-edged sword.”
It’s all just worth pondering, and certainly asking your doctor whether the tests she ordered are indeed necessary, as experts acknowledge that there is “clearly widespread overuse.” I refer you to Brody for all the details, but want to emphasize that radiation exposure is cumulative, and note that according to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine she quotes, “The issue of radiation exposure is unlikely to come up because each procedure is considered in isolation, the risks posed by each procedure are low and seemingly unmeasurable, and any radiation-induced cancer won’t appear for years and cannot easily be linked to past imaging procedures.” Combine this with the not-insubstantial dose of radiation we all receive just by living on this planet, and it’s something that at least deserves our attention.