radiation

  1. Americans unaware of radiation risks

    How many Hiroshimas have you survived?

    I've actually asked that question of friends, and it never fails to get a reaction. People are shocked to think it's even possible that they may have been exposed to the same levels of radiation as atomic bomb survivors.

    But many of us have--and I'll tell you how to calculate your own "Hiroshima level" in a moment.

    First, a new study finds you're not alone if you find the comparison hard to believe--because Americans are utterly clueless when it comes to the levels of radiation they've been exposed to through CT scans.

    Most people don't even believe that these tests can cause cancer down the road.

    Researchers asked 1,168 emergency room patients to agree or disagree with statements about CT scans and radiation, and then rank that statement on a scale of 0 (completely disagree) to 100 (completely true).

    The majority of patients disagreed with this statement: "2 to 3 abdominal CTs over a person's lifetime can increase cancer risk."

    That's despite research showing that every 1,000 CT scans produces one extra cancer case. The CT scans carried out in 2007 alone will eventually lead to 29,000 cancers and 15,000 deaths, according to government numbers.

    More than three quarters of those surveyed also didn't realize that CT scans expose patients to more radiation than X-rays.

    In reality, each CT scan packs the punch of more than 100 X-rays--and some can be 1,000 times more powerful.

    Now let's get back to Hiroshima... because this one got the biggest reaction in the survey.

    The statement, "approximately 2 to 3 abdominal CTs give the same radiation exposure as experienced by Hiroshima survivors" ranked at just 13 on the 100-point scale, meaning most people didn't think it was even remotely true.

    But it is.

    So here's how to figure out your own Hiroshima level: Take the total number of CT scans you've had and divide it by three--and that's roughly the number of "blasts" you've survived.

    If it's any consolation, you're hardly alone--Americans are now exposed to far more radiation than ever, up 700 percent over 30 years. (Read more about that here.)

    Even children are getting zapped like never before: A new study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine finds that the average child has more than seven scans involving radiation before the age of 18.

    The news gets even worse, because 8 percent of kids have had a CT scan--and 3.5 percent of them have had two or more, giving them their first Hiroshima experience before they're even old enough to vote.

    And while some children may really need those tests, the real tragedy is in the growing number cancer cases that will hit kids and adults alike because of tests they never needed in the first place.

  2. New X-rays pack a wallop

    Call it the world's most dangerous gimmick: Dentists and orthodontists are turning to new 3-D scanners that pack more radiation than traditional X-rays.

    There's no evidence these machines actually improve treatment or outcomes... but don't worry--they say children have a real blast with them.

    "Kids love to see that 3-D image," one orthodontist said in a Webcast sponsored by one of the machine's makers, according to the New York Times. "They can go into our computer and look at their skull."

    You'd think it's even better than a trip to the movies!

    The devices are called cone-beam CT scanners, and the Journal of the American Dental Association dedicated an entire issue to the technology--and it just so happens that the issue was underwritten by one of the manufacturers.

    Maybe that's why the articles offered glowing coverage of the supposedly crisp, clear images... but almost no real discussion of the clear risks that come from blasting kids with high levels of radiation.

    One article even downplayed those risks by comparing the levels of radiation to the amount used in full-body airport scanners.

    And while that's nothing to brag about--those machines aren't nearly as safe as the mainstream would have you believe, especially for children--it's not even true.

    Dr. David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center, told the Times that the comparison is "very wrong — by a lot."

    In fact, he said the cone-beam scanners can be hundreds of times more powerful than the airport devices.

    But dentists are in love with them--and are even using the machines when other radiation-free solutions are available, such as braces that require 3-D images for placement.

    There are two ways to get those images: A radiation-free digital camera, which takes about 30 minutes... or the radioactive new scanners, which can do it in seconds.

    I'll bet you can guess which one orthodontists are opting for--and it's not because it's better for the kid.

    It's because time is money.

    One dentist mentioned in the Times article values each minute at his practice at $5. Since the machine saves 30 minutes, it saves $150 each time it's used.

    KA-ching!

    Over the course of 1,000 patients in a year, it's $150,000 in savings.

    KA-ching! KA-ching! KA-ching!

    Meanwhile, the Times also found that many dentists who use traditional X-rays still opt for slower D-speed film despite the fact that it uses 60 percent more radiation than the newer, faster film.

    Digital X-rays, which are even less common, use less radiation--but if you do actually need images of yourself or your child, that's the one to look for.

    And while you're at it, make sure you look for a dentist who will only use it when absolutely necessary.

  3. Zapped in the dental chair

    A new study shows what's really at stake here: People who get X-rayed the most have the highest risk of thyroid cancer.

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