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Low-dose Radiation Not The Risk It’s Made Out To Be
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Radiation causes cancer. That’s a simple fact that is not under dispute. Just how much exposure is too much, however, is a point that remains very much under debate. This is especially so in regard to the low dose radiation used in standard diagnostic procedures, such as CT scans and mammography. These potentially lifesaving procedures remain governed by an outdated radiation exposure model that causes some to fear the very tests that may help them beat life-limiting diseases, such as cancer.
While guidelines to limit radiation exposure from scans remain in place, those guidelines follow a model created in the 1950s. Known as the Linear No-Threshold, or LNT model, the guidelines suppose that any exposure to radiation is harmful at any dosing above zero. The problem with the model, some clinicians say, is that it was based on exposure to radiation from extreme doses, such as those produced by atomic bombs. The model does not consider the much lower doses of radiation produced by standard imaging machines. It also does not take into account more contemporary studies that show the body is quite capable of repairing any damage created by low-dose radiation exposure. Research shows that cells heal themselves naturally following low-dose radiation. There is also ample evidence of no increase in cancer rates among those who work in nuclear power plants; a fact that casts the guideline’s veracity in doubt.
While medical guidelines for tests like the CT colonography remain in place to limit patient exposure, some clinicians say those policies limit access to imaging that may increase the chances of early detection of diseases that can take lives. They also give rise to fears related to low-dose radiation that are largely unfounded. With that in mind, there is a push on for the medical community to abandon the old LNT model in favor of evidence-based guidelines related specifically to low-dose imaging. In the meantime, clinicians are urging patients to become informed about their testing options, any potential risks involved and the benefits.
The American Cancer Society estimates about 1.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in the coming year. A little more than 500,000 people will die cancer-related deaths. Imaging tests, such as mammograms, that draw on low-dose radiation to detect cancer early can and do save lives. Fears over radiation exposure from those tests may drive under compliance and utilization. Clinicians are working to undo those fears and to make sure people understand that idea that all radiation is harmful simply isn’t supported by science.
Lewisville/Flower Mound Oncology Group, a division of Choice Cancer Care – is an independently owned and operated oncology practice that is completely focused on unique, comprehensive patient care.
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