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Beware of the CT Scan

Radiation causes heart disease, cancer, and brain damage. In fact, radiation can damage every cell in the body.

So why do so many doctor recommend CT scans of your heart to look for coronary disease? I don’t. In fact, I have never recommended a coronary CT scan to screen for disease. The test is dangerous and does not provide meaningful information.

But if you head to your local ER, the CT scan is what you will get. It is the simplest way for doctors to look for a bunch of causes of chest pain including coronary blockage, pulmonary embolism, aortic dissection, and pneumonia. Forget about doctors taking an adequate history, just get the CT scan. 

Now listen, in an emergency situation, this test can be very valuable. But overuse and abuse of this radiation based test will surely lead to health problems in many. 

Abdominal CT scans are also ordered on everyone with an upset stomach. Yet, the radiation from an abdominal CT is roughly equivalent to 200 chest X-rays or 1,500 dental X-rays. 

Sorry to rain on the parade of this 100 billion-a-year business. In 1980, 3 million CT scans were performed. In 2011, more than 85 million! That is 1 CT scan per every 4 people. Yet according to the Food and Drug Administration, 30-50% of imaging tests are believed to be medically unnecessary. 

Back to the heart.

Say you have little to zero coronary calcium. Your risk for a heart attack IS lower. Not zero, but low. Should you now go out and celebrate with a hot fudge sundae and resume your smoking habit? A good report can result in severe complacency in some. 

What if your CT shows a lot of calcium? Should you start statin drugs? Should you get a stress test or coronary angiogram? These are dollar signs for the cardiologist but provide little to zero benefit. Many people wind up with a stent or coronary bypass surgery and THEY NEVER HAD A SYMPTOM. But the doctor tells the patient how they saved their life. What a bunch of BS. 

I prefer advanced blood testing to lower heart disease risk. Tests such as lipid particle number and size, inflammation, genetics, homocysteine, oxidation, intracellular nutrients, toxic metals, and many more are what I use to determine risk. 

We improve that risk with nutrition, removal of environmental pollutants, relaxation, exercise, sleep, routine chiropractic care, and evidence-based supplements. 

29,000 cases of cancer and 15,000 deaths annually might be caused by CT scans, according to studies publish in 2007 and 2009.  A 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine found that the two environmental factors most strongly associated with breast cancer were radiation exposure and the use of post-menopausal hormones.

To me, it always goes back to poor nutrition and chemicals. 

Mammograms are radiation and they have little to no benefit. They DO lead to over-diagnosis, excess testing, excess surgeries and unnecessary anxiety. Do monthly breast exams and consider thermography. 

While a single scan would rarely be concerning, many Americans undergo multiple tests. A 2009 study by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that among 31,000 patients who had a diagnostic CT scan in 2007, 33 percent had more than five during their lifetime, 5 percent received 22 or more, and 1 percent underwent more than 38 scans!

Searching on the government database Pubmed.gov for terms ” CT scans cancer risk” results in 1700 citations. Radiation exposure is cumulative, and children, who undergo between millions of CT scans annually, are much more vulnerable to its effects.

But good luck trying to change the practice pattern of doctors. A recent study found that doctors who order a lot of tests — a practice known as defensive medicine — get sued less often. An ER friend of mine brags of seeing over 50 patients per shift. Can you imagine how many CT scans he orders that are unnecessary and done in the name of defensive medicine? Hard to take a good history and examine on 6 patients an hour (10 minutes per patient). 

Studies performed in the United Kingdom in 2012 and Australia in 2013 found an increase in cases of leukemia and malignant brain tumors among children and young adults who had undergone CT scans. 

Think twice. Ask for an ultrasound or MRI when possible. Ask for a second opinion. 

Sources:

  1. Radiat Environ Biophys. 2015 Mar;54(1):1-12.
  2. BMJ. 2013 May 21;346:f2360.

Excellent review at http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2015/01/the-surprising-dangers-of-ct-sans-and-x-rays/index.htm

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