Every year in the US, in Europe and in Canada millions of people are subjected to one or more computer tomography (CT) scans. These diagnostic devices are used so often, in fact, that some experts are positing that maybe, just maybe CT scans are being grossly overused.
What's a CT Scan and How Does It Work?
A computer tomography scan is one of several medical imaging devices that can provide a glimpse into the human body. Like X-rays, CT scans use pinpointed electron bombardment in order to create a special type of x-ray photon radiation that can penetrate inside human bone and tissue; another thing these devices have in common is that they are ideally suited for hard or dense tissue--most ostensibly, bones.
Not only are these two devices similar but a CT scan is basically about 200 X-rays being given consecutively. In this regard, an X-ray may be compared to a photograph and a CT scan to a movie or a video--which is, after all, a series of "photos" strung together. This is merely a rough comparison but, hopefully, you get the "picture."
One of the good things about CT scans is that they don't use radioactive materials or dyes (like PET scans); on the other hand, patients undergoing X-rays and CT scans are exposed to disease-inducing ionizing radiation. And, for the record, there is no such a thing as an absolutely "safe" level of ionizing radiation exposure; as such, the patronizing use of the phrase "low-dose radiation" is merely a ruse to make you feel absolutely safe when, in fact, you absolutely aren't. In theory, one single X-ray is capable of triggering a malignant neoplasm.
Are CT Scans Useful for Diagnosing Soft Tissue Disease?
As was previously stated, CT scans (and X-rays) are at their best when used to look at dense or hard tissue. They can be used to diagnose disease in or around soft tissue but, in this regard, other devices (ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging) are better suited for such uses.
In fact, this is one of the problems with CT scans. Not only do they (unnecessarily in many instances, some experts would say) expose patients to cancer-causing ionizing radiation, but they are not as effective and safe as ultrasound scans and MRIs--when it comes to soft tissue disease diagnostics.
Except in cases where a sonogram or an MRI simply isn't available (or feasible), CT scans should not be used, according to many experts; as a matter of fact, a CT scan should only be used when absolutely necessary, when no other safer diagnostic device is available, and only after a patient has been thoroughly informed about the many risks associated with this type of technology.
What Are the Risks Involved When Subjected to a CT Scan?
The most glaring, significant danger, of course, is the high amount of ionizing radiation that about 200 X-rays (what the average CT scan is equivalent to) exposes the human body to.
This amount (and the inherent dangers therein) of radiation is exacerbated if the test has to be repeated (which happens more often than one would think), if the radiology staff fail to take the recommended precautions (which include providing lead shielding instruments, especially for the reproductive organs) and if too many CT scans are given to patients during the year and during a lifetime.
The most troubling health risk patients getting CT scans undergo is the possibility of developing cancer. To complicate the matter further, cancer can take years to develop--meaning that you may end up developing a malignant tumor because of a CT scan you had 10, 15, 20 or more years ago!
This isn't a theory or merely being pessimistic. The stark reality is that we're all in the midst of a global cancer pandemic. Every year more and more people are being diagnosed with cancer and, because, officially, there is yet no cure, such a diagnosis is usually a death sentence.
At best, conventional cancer treatment merely promises to extend your life a few years beyond your assumed "death date," were you to forego undergoing conventional cancer treatment. Even those people that oncologists label (irresponsibly, some critics would argue) as "cured" haven't really been cured. Cutting out or poisoning malignant cells and organs with chemotherapy isn't a cure--even if the cancer doesn't come back.
The bottom line is that until an actual cure is found (or officially recognized--since some people assert that such cures have already been found but suppressed--neither side has conclusively proven it's case in that on-going debate!), those who are diagnosed with cancer will die from cancer, unless they die from other causes (the actual people labeled as "cured") before cancer comes back.
Of course, cancer isn't the only potential risk factor when it comes to the ionizing radiation imparted by CT scans. There is a strong possibility that other chronic diseases (i.e., diabetes, allergies, lupus, alzheimers, CVD, etc.) may also be either induced or exacerbated by the cellular damage and physiologic dysfunctions (inflammation, oxidation, etc.) brought about from exposure to ionizing radiation.
Unfortunately, establishing correlation between potentially harmful processes/conditions and disease is always difficult and ionizing radiation is a classic example. It 's not up for debate, though, that ionizing radiation is harmful to human beings; cancer and radiation poisoning, however, are the only two diseases which we have thus far confirmed with absolute certainty. Other diseases and conditions (including genetic and reproductive defects), though, remain a looming possibility.
What Can You Do to Better Protect Yourself?
Unfortunately, most doctors seem to love ordering CT scans, just like they love passing out antibiotics (often when the use isn't justified--such as for treating viral infections) and painkillers. Antibiotic and painkiller abuse has a very high cost, both financially and in terms of unnecessarily inflicting serious medical complications (including the development of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms), but, when it comes to CT scan over-use or mis-use, circumstances are even more unforgivable and shameful than those relating to medication abuses.
This is because there are usually legitimate, much safer and, incredibly, more proficient (when it comes to soft tissue diagnostics) options available, thus often making the use of CT scans unnecessary. Your doctor may tell you that the insurance companies prefer CT scans and in many cases, supposedly, refuse to pay for MRIs and sonograms unless an X-ray (if feasible) and then a CT scan are ordered first.
First of all, you should know that this demand by the insurance companies is solely based on financial-savings considerations, not on medical or what's-best-for-the-patient considerations. Needless to say, this is 100% reprehensible, especially when, officially, your doctor, not the insurance companies, is supposed to be in charge of these decisions.
Doctors can confront the insurance companies on this but they usually refuse to do so.
Maybe this is something that legislative bodies and politicians can resolve once and for all--such as by requiring insurance companies to get medical degrees and licenses, if they wish to make medical decisions and, for all intensive purposes, practice medicine. Then again, doctors have allowed this "sick" paradigm to come to fruition, which is why patients need to stand up for their rights--if no one else will.
There is no question that CT scans can serve a very useful purpose when it comes to diagnostics. This article isn't saying that CT scans shouldn't be used at all but, rather, that they need to be used more responsibly, according to what's best for the patient (not what turns the insurance companies "on"), only when absolutely necessary and, most important of all, when and if a sonogram or MRI isn't available or feasible.
For your part, it's up to you as a consumer and a patient to make sure that nothing is done when you are sick that will either delay or compromise your recovery, that will unnecessarily complicate things medically, and that may expose you to additional or more severe medical problems than the one you came to a doctor to have treated. No one would deny that cancer is one such possibility we all have to strive to avoid at all cost--considering how devastating this disease can be and the fact that, officially, there is no cure.
If your doctor needs to look inside your body in order to diagnose an internal problem, by all means request that a sonogram or an MRI be used instead of a CT scan. At the very least, keep track of how many X-rays, CT scans and PET scans (all of which subject you to dangerous levels of ionizing radiation) you are subjected to yearly--needless to say, the fewer, the better!
Don't be surprised if they will try to strong-arm you into going along with a CT scan. The "gods" (what they may as well call the insurance companies), doctors will tell you, "won't approve the much safer and more effective sonograms and MRIs--it's out of our hands!"
But don't you buckle or fall apart like a little girl who can't find her parents. Agree to pay the difference, if you can afford it; find a more conscientious doctor who won't be too much of a wuss to stand up to the "gods." Plead with your doctor, if you must, but do what you can to avoid a CT scan, if at all possible.
The bottom line is that, in most cases, sonograms and MRIs provide better imaging than CT scans--in other words, good hard science, not just common sense, is on your side on this matter.
Copyright, 2017. Fred Fletcher. All rights reserved.
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