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Brain Tumors Linked to Frequent X-Rays

A study published in the American journal Cancer found that people who frequently had some types of dental X-rays in the past had an increased risk of a meningioma, the most common type of brain tumor.

It should be noted that their data was from a time when radiation doses with typical X-rays were higher than they are today, given that many dentists are moving from traditional film to digital images.

More than anything else, this study serves to remind us that it's prudent to avoid X-rays whenever possible, and to only consent to their use when their findings may alter course of treatment.

Here are some facts on X-rays and other forms of diagnostic ionizing radiation that I have long shared with my clients:

  • For decades, the scientific community has known that X-rays cause a variety of mutations.

  • X-rays are known to cause instability in our genetic material, which is usually the central characteristic of most aggressive cancers.

  • There is no risk-free dose of X-rays. Even the weakest doses of x-rays can cause cellular damage that cannot be repaired.

  • There is strong epidemiological evidence to support the contention that X-rays can contribute to the development of every type of human cancer.

  • There is strong evidence to support the contention that X-rays are a significant cause of ischemic heart disease.

Sadly, most health care practitioners have been educated to believe that the benefits of taking X-rays for diagnostic purposes far outweigh the negative consequences of being exposed to ionizing radiation. This attitude is well represented by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), who have this to say about X-rays:

For the exposures encountered in conventional radiography [x-rays], the risk of cancer or heritable defects (via damaged ovarian cells or sperm cells) is very low. Most experts feel that this low risk is largely outweighed by the benefits of information gained from appropriate imaging. X-rays are monitored and regulated to provide the minimum amount of radiation exposure needed to produce the image.

I don't fully agree with the NIH on this topic.

While I believe that X-rays can be useful and necessary in certain situations, I have found that they are sometimes taken for reasons that have little to do with the best interests of the patient at hand. Here are a few examples:

X-rays for medico-legal protection

My experience has been that some health practitioners think first about protecting themselves against legal action. Rather than devote their energy to thinking about what is best for their patients in the short and long term, they perform diagnostic tests and give recommendations that fall in line with their professional "standards of practice." If trouble arises, the doctor has records to prove that he gave perfectly competent care according to his profession's standards of practice.

It's actually pretty clear to me that most physicians don't think twice about the potential dangers of ionizing radiation, which reflects how much emphasis is placed on this issue during conventional medical education.

X-rays to create the feeling that something has been done

Many patients want their doctors to do something. They don’t want to hear about what they should be eating or how much rest they should be getting. Some patients almost feel cheated if their doctors don’t perform a blood test, take an X-ray, or do some other diagnostic test that makes them feel like answers are on the way. A doctor who does not give in to these expectations is at risk of developing a reputation that can hurt his ability to make a living.

X-rays as a marketing tool

If you have already read about my first working experience as a chiropractor, you may remember my story of the chiropractor who took full-spine X-rays on all of his patients. It was absolutely clear to me that the majority of his X-rays were taken for marketing purposes.

If you study radiology, you will learn that everyone develops degenerative changes around their spines as they age – this is to be expected, just like wrinkling of your skin. Perhaps you can imagine how a health practitioner can paint these normal, degenerative changes and other clinically irrelevant findings in a frightening way to persuade a patient to sign up for six or twelve months of treatments.

If you don’t have any training in radiology and your health practitioner points to X-ray images that show areas of your spine that are worn down or "out of alignment" and you are told that you are in danger of developing crippling arthritis in the years ahead if you don’t receive his or her treatments, what are you to do?

Many health practitioners are fully aware of the authoritative power and influence that X-ray images can have on selling their treatments, and unfortunately, some of them don't hesitate to use this power and influence to its fullest extent. If you are skeptical about this, you need to participate in a practice management seminar to experience firsthand how some practitioners are finely trained to use X-rays to build "successful" practices.

Some Practical Recommendations on Taking or Not Taking X-rays

  1. If a health practitioner recommends that you have an X-ray or CT scan done, try to find out exactly what the health practitioner is looking for. More importantly, find out what the practitioner will recommend that you do for each possible major finding.

    If you cannot see yourself following through on any of the practitioner’s recommendations for each possible major finding, it seems logical not to expose yourself to unnecessary ionizing radiation to begin with. If your practitioner is unwilling to address all of your concerns, you really need to find a practitioner who will.

  2. If you decide that taking an X-ray will help you figure out what the problem is and/or help you figure out how to get better, ask the person who will take the X-ray exactly what the dose will be. If he or she cannot provide an answer, you may be exposed to a higher dose than is necessary. If this is the case, you need to find another X-ray facility, one that is fully committed to using the lowest possible dose for its X-rays.

  3. If you have X-rays taken, know that these X-rays belong to you. If you don't feel good about your doctor's interpretation of your X-rays, you can take your films to someone else for a second opinion. You may be asked to sign a form in order for your doctor or X-ray facility to release your films to you, but make no mistake about it: your images belong to you.

  4. I believe that babies, growing children, and pregnant women should not be exposed to ionizing radiation for diagnostic purposes unless they are faced with a life or limb-threatening situation. Fetuses, babies, and growing children have rapidly growing cells that are much more susceptible to genetic damage when exposed to ionizing radiation than the slower growing cells of adults.

If you want to learn more about why avoiding unnecessary x-rays is important to experiencing your best health, I highly recommend that you read Radiation from Medical Procedures in the Pathogenesis of Cancer and Ischemic Heart Disease: Dose-Response Studies with Physicians per 100,000 Population, by John Gofman, MD, PhD.

The harmful effects of ionizing radiation that are listed above are from Dr. Gofman's book.

Dr. Gofman is one of the few scientists in this world who has had the courage to fight for greater public awareness of the dangers of ionizing radiation. You can read more about his life and work here and here.

And getting back to dental X-rays, if you and your dentist agree that taking X-rays is necessary to properly diagnose your situation and devise a treatment plan, be sure to ask for a protective apron that comes with a neck collar to shield your thyroid gland and other tissues in your cervical region.

I hope this post proves to be useful.


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John received his PhD in physics before attending medical school. I had the great pleasure of working with him for many years in the 90s and up until his passing. He was a professor of molecular and cellular biology and a wonderful man.
Few know that he was on the original panel when the idea was started to give mammograms to women. He raised many concerns about the issue of exposure and was removed. He gave me a complete set of his books and a few years ago I donated them to my university where a book I helped with, Woman's Book of Healing Herbs, started the integrative health collection,
John's XRays and health pledge is found on one of my sites here

Your mention of spinal x-rays and arthritis recalled the experience of my sister who was told at 27 that she could expect her spinal arthritis to put her in a wheelchair within ten years and that there was basically nothing she could do about it (so no push for her to take some sort of therapy in this case). Shortly afterwards two things happened: I read an article about a Danish woman who was successfully treating artritis with a particular vegetarian diet in Stockholm and suggested she try cutting out red meats, and she found a new practitioner who told her not to come back until she had been on a red meat and lactose free diet for a month. Holistic treatments followed that. At her next control by the specialist some years late,r she was informed that her arthritis had not progressed as expected - (but no one was interested in her dietary changes!) - and when she went back after a further decade, the same specialist (having failed to consult his own previousx-rays) informed her that she had never had arthritis and that she was nothing but a liar and a farud to be coming to him for arthritis treatment.
So, detecting her food intolerances kept her mobile and allowed her to train as a landscape gardner and practise her trade. Without even a walking stick, never mind the wheelchair.