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Lung Cancer Scans Can be Unreliable

unreliable cancer scansEvidence suggests that CT scans to measure lung tumors can be unreliable.  This could potentially lead patients and doctors to believe the cancer is growing when it's not.

A new study found that changes of up to 10 percent can happen simply as a result of the inherent variability of CT imaging.

According to Reuters:

“[The study] ... is the first to test how reliable lung cancer scans are -- work that's long overdue, experts say, because CT scans have already become the gold standard for measuring cancer growth and treatment response.”

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

It's important to understand that many medical procedures are not an exact science, and this includes CT scans used to measure cancer growth. In the case of CT scans for lung cancer, this new study showed that radiologists reviewing images of the same patient taken just minutes apart found substantial "changes" in the tumors, in some cases noting they had gotten up to 31 percent bigger or 23 percent smaller.

And in about 3 percent of the cases, the "growth" appeared significant enough that disease progression would be diagnosed, which would undoubtedly impact the person's future course of treatment, not to mention their state of mind.

As the study's lead author pointed out in Reuters, changes of up to 10 percent can happen simply because of expected variations in the imaging tests, which is a large discrepancy considering many oncologists rely on these tests to make treatment decisions. Further, what this means is that lung cancer patients may be exposing themselves to the risks of the CT scan for nothing, as if the test result is unreliable, indicating a tumor has grown when it really has not, or vice versa, the test was a waste.

Why You Need to Make an Educated Decision Before Consenting to a CT Scan

Now this was not the safest study to have done and certainly not one I would have participated in because I am fully aware of the danger of CT scans. However the researchers and most of the conventional medical community are oblivious to these dangers and as a result were able to generate this exceedingly useful data.

Many people do not think twice when their physician orders a CT scan, but you need to know that this is not an innocuous test because it exposes your body to dangerous ionizing radiation -- radiation that is proven to cause cancer.

In fact, the ionizing radiation used by CT scans may cause chromosomal mutations that are often irreparable, and the effects are cumulative (meaning the more scans you receives, the worse the effects will be). It also causes DNA changes that are proven to lead to cancer.

CT scans alone will cause nearly 30,000 unnecessary cancer cases (about 2 percent of cancer cases), which will lead to about 14,500 deaths, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. A New England Journal of Medicine study also estimated that overuse of diagnostic CT scans may cause up to 3 million excess cancers over the next 20 to 30 years.

100 Times the Radiation of a Chest X-Ray

Many are simply not aware that a CT scan of your chest delivers 100 times the radiation of a conventional chest x-ray. Further, cells cannot correctly repair every type of complex genetic damage induced by ionizing radiation, and sometimes cells cannot repair such damage at all.

Unlike some other mutagens, ionizing radiation has access to the genetic molecules of every internal organ that is within the x-ray beam. Within such organs, even a single high-speed high-energy electron, set into motion by an x-ray photon, has a chance of inducing the types of damage that defy repair. That is why there is no risk-free dose-level when it comes to ionizing radiation.

And when such mutations are not immediately deadly to your cells, they endure and accumulate with each additional exposure to ionizing radiation. Again, knowing that the risks of radiation accumulation, it seems highly unethical that the above study was even conducted, as it involved 33 lung-cancer patients consenting to have two chest CT scans done within minutes, simply for science.

Aside from the inherent cancer risks, CT scans and other tests that use ionizing radiation may also:

  • Cause DNA damage in your arteries, which in turn causes the cells lining your arteries to multiply abnormally, decreasing the size of the arterial lumen and effectively "narrowing" your arteries. This radiation-induced tissue inside your arteries is similar to scar tissue, decreasing vessel elasticity and increasing your risk for arterial blockage and cardiovascular disease.
  • Result in misdiagnosis, inaccurate readings and false positives, increasing the likelihood of follow-up tests -- further increasing your radiation exposure and potentially altering your disease treatment incorrectly.
  • Expose you to radiation injury due to software flaws, faulty programming, poor safety procedures or inadequate staffing and training.

CT Scans Should be Used Only When Absolutely Necessary

High-tech imaging can be beneficial in certain cases, but it must be used SPARINGLY and only when absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, CT scans are the "gold-standard" test for measuring cancer growth, and many cancer patients receive one every few months. If the tumors are found to have grown (which, as this new study revealed, may or may not be true), the patient is typically offered a different drug as a form of treatment.

So, in this medical model, which regrettably is the dominant one in the United States, both the CT scan and the drug treatment are potentially toxic to the patient, and neither do anything to address the underlying causes of the cancer, or help the patient's body heal and fight the cancer naturally.

Further, physicians are more often using scans to screen "the worried well" (such as scanning former smokers for lung cancer), and many have purchased their own imaging equipment for their practices. This adds a financial incentive into the mix and sets the stage for overuse of the technology.

Becoming an Informed Patient

Becoming aware of the risks of medical scans is part of becoming a smart consumer and knowing your health care options. With that in mind, the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter offers some good suggestions for questions you should ask before undergoing a CT scan:

  • Is the test really necessary?
  • What difference will it make in my care?
  • Is there a non-radiation alternative, such as ultrasound or MRI?
  • Is the facility accredited by the American College of Radiology?
  • Will the test use the lowest level of radiation for adequate imaging? (Will it be adjusted for my size, or my child's size?)
  • Will the scan be limited to the indicated area, and will nearby areas be shielded?

So please be sure you make an educated decision when consenting to a CT scan, and if you do get one to check for cancer growth, realize that the results may not be truly indicative of whether your cancer is progressing.

What to Do if You Must Have a CT Scan

Finally, if for whatever reason you decide to get a CT scan, you may be able to lower your radiation-induced risk for cancer by using astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant. This is the best advice I can give you to protect yourself from the massive ionizing radiation exposure.

You can take 4-20 mg of astaxanthin to protect your cells and tissues and ideally this should be done for 1-2 weeks prior to the exam. Once the CT scan is done you can reduce the dose to 4 mg. You can also try chlorella and spirulina as they have been shown to be protective in these scenarios.