The new airport X-Ray scanners may be exposing us to harmful radiation. Although the TSA claims they are safe, the problem with radiation-emitting technology is that damage from exposure is often discovered in studies years down the road. Last week Dr. Oz had a show on our increasing exposure to radiation. He says that the fastest growing cancer in women is thyroid cancer, possibly due to the increased use of dental x-rays and mammograms in recent decades. He demonstrated that on the protective apron you wear during dental x-rays there is a flap that can be lifted up and wrapped around your neck to protect your thyroid but that many dentists don’t bother to use it. There is also a “thyroid guard” for use during mammograms.
You should be especially aware of your radiation exposure if you fall into any of these high risk categories:
- People 65+ years old (are less able to repair DNA and cell damage)
- Cancer Survivors
- Pregnant women (the developing tissue of the fetus is very sensitive to damage)
Airport X-Ray Scanners
Opt for the pat-down instead of walking through the scanners. The TSA claims they do not expose us to more than 1/10 of a unit of radiation but there are a group of scientists from the University of California that claim that the real dose of radiation deposited into the skin by the airport scanners is actually high. Bottomline, these scanners are brand new and have no long term studies to prove safety (we are now discovering that CT Scans have more radiation that was initially thought). In general it is best to avoid radiation exposure when at all possible.
CT scans are overused, having sky rocketed from 3 million scans in 1980 to 90 million in 2008, they are now used to diagnose headaches and stomach pain. Two new studies show that CT scans use more radiation than previously thought. Although they are powerful tools for detecting critical tumors and intestinal blockages, only use them when absolutely necessary and always weigh the benefits with the risks. People who weigh less than 180 lbs can get a lower voltage CT scan without compromising the image.
The most common place where you will be exposed to radiation is at the dentist. These x-rays have 1,000 times more radiation than airport scanners. The American Dental Association says that dental x-rays should only be given when necessary for diagnosis and treatment. Digital x-rays are possible and have minimal radiation and faster film speeds (such as E or F speed film) can lower radiation exposure by 50%. Radiation gowns given at the dentist have a flap to cover the thyroid but it’s almost never used. ALWAYS wear the thyroid guard, if you don’t see one then ask for it, it’s there.
Weigh your risk factors to see if it’s right for you. We recently spoke with a Canadian radiologist who claims that mammograms are ineffective for women under 40 because mammograms do not penetrate well through the dense breast tissue found in younger women. If you find a lump but are not in a high risk category for breast cancer, an ultrasound can be the first test to diagnose the lump. Always make sure to ask for the thyroid guard on the protective apron.
Patients need to decide if getting certain types of test results outweighs their associated risks. Always check to see if there is another test that can be done without radiation, with a lower form of radiation or another test such as ultrasound. And remember that if you are under 180 lbs you can get a lower voltage CT scan. Keep track of your radiation exposure – literally keep a file that notes every scan you have ever had.