Misinformation about radiation health effects does not just affect the nuclear industry and dramatically increase the costs associated with all nuclear energy technologies. It is also having a deleterious effect on the beneficial use of radiation and radioactive materials in medical diagnosis and treatment.
Throughout their training programs, medical doctors have been taught to do everything they can to minimize radiation exposure. This message has become so intense in recent decades that many medical professionals shy away from ordering tests that would help them do their jobs better and provide better patient outcomes.
Recently, I was privy to an email conversation between several people who are working hard to spread more accurate information about radiation health effects to busy medical doctors. I have obtained permission from the participants in that private conversation to share some of it with you in hopes of continuing the mission of helping more people understand the balance between benefits and risks of using radiation and radioactive materials.
The conversation started on June 6, when Dr. Jerry Cuttler shared the following story.
At 7 am this morning, I gave a Round to a group of ten very busy surgeons who order up many CT scans. They appreciated my presentation very much — a big surprise for them because they are constantly being hounded to minimize radiation-induced cancer risks, especially to young patients.
I brought copies of four articles, including the SARI Open Letter on LD TBI treatment.
They were very interested in Dr. Sakamoto’s data that showed peak immune system stimulation at 150 mGy (15 rad) and the LD HBI protocol of repeated stimulatory doses of 150 mGy, twice a week for 5 weeks. I carefully explained the important difference between an acute dose and a continuous dose-rate.
They believed that each CT (acute) exposure adds to cancer risk. I explained that the patient recovers from each CT exposure, due to the action of the very powerful adaptive protection systems.
The physicians were not aware of the enormous rate of DNA damage, due to the endogenous processes, and the restorative functions of the protection systems.
(Dr. Cuttler’s presentation is titled Remedy for Radiation Fear Beneficial Effects of Low Radiation by Jerry M. Cuttler D.Sc., P.Eng. Cuttler & Associates Inc. Mississauga, Ontario)
Cuttler’s message was answered by two people, Les Corrice and Robert Hargraves. Corrice publishes the well-respected nuclear energy focused-blog, Hiroshima Syndrome. He was a health physics professional, both in the Navy and in the commercial nuclear power industry.
Good job. I did something similar with some available radiation brochures in the mid-1980s. I gave them to interested doctors and dentists, and answered their questions. I was working for a nuke plant, and hormesis was a verboten topic, back then. Regardless, even the old-school relative-risk angle was very helpful to the medical and dental professionals. I’m sure you found the experience rewarding.
Could you share that presentation with this group? Could it be made simple enough and self-explanatory enough that we could make similar presentations at local hospitals. I know doctors at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Clinic, and I’ve had the radiation safety officer talk to my class, so I might be able to give a presentation if it’s short enough not to embarrass myself, and if I had some papers to distribute.
Cuttler’s response is direct and informative. His message describing the communications challenge needs to be well-understood.
I’ve given about ten presentations to medical staff, including medical physicists at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
No I cannot make it simple. I’ve been studying this subject since 1995, when Dr. Myron Pollycove got me started with his centennial lecture on Roentgen’s discovery of x-rays.
The subject is complex, and the physicians ask difficult questions. If the speaker does not give rapid, authoritative answers then credibility vanishes.
Many nuclear professionals harbor the notion that irrational fears about radiation are limited to the uneducated portions of the population. They need to recognize that the effort to spread unwarranted fear, uncertainty and doubt has been intensive and widespread and includes a substantial effort within the education establishment. That means there are many very well educated people who have been taught incorrect information about radiation and the way that it affects human biology.
It is important to make the effort to get the attention and gain the trust of these well-educated people so that they listen to what will be, to them, new information that contradicts most of what they have been told in the past. This is a different kind of challenge from teaching people who have no preconceived notions and who thirst for knowledge because they recognize that they do not know much about a topic.
Hargraves responded to Cuttler’s message with a link to a recently published study that might help convince open-minded, curious medical doctors to question their previously taught knowledge and open their minds to new — to them — information. The study is titled Drosophila Melanogaster Show A Threshold Effect In Response To Radiation. It documents modern experiments conducted on the same “fruit flies” that Herman Muller used in the 1940s, but it reaches a completely different conclusion about the effects of low dose radiation than Muller did.
(Note: If the direct link to the paper leads you to the Dose-Response Journal home page, just search for “drosophila melanogaster” to get a working link to the paper. Responses vary depending on browser setup and prior use of the site.)
It might be too much to hope for, but perhaps even Dr. Helen Caldicott would take a new look at radiation health effects if she learned that Muller’s research on drosophila melanogaster had been redone using modern tools with significantly different results. After all, she has informed us all that her views on radiation were substantially influenced when she learned about Muller’s fruit fly experiments during her first year of medical school.