One of the members of SARI (Scientists for Accurate Radiation Information) shared a disturbing story with a happy ending. I obtained his permission to share the story more widely in hopes that others will benefit. The happy ending was a result of caregivers who listened and responded properly when provided with accurate information that conflicted with conventionally accepted misinformation.
Note: The below was edited lightly to provide more paragraph breaks and to anonymize the name of the medical establishments involved.
I want to tell you about my past 24 hours. Our 12-year old son stayed home from school with an upset stomach. It got progressively worse throughout the day yesterday, so we went to see his pediatrician. The pain was localized to his right side and he had other symptoms which concerned her, so she sent him and my wife to a children’s hospital – which is one of the best hospitals of its kind in the country – for an ultrasound.
A second pediatrician examined him and advised my wife that he had signs consistent with appendicitis. This is where it got interesting. She advised that we get an ultrasound rather than an abdominal CT, even though a CT provides a more consistently reliable diagnosis. She said that if the ultrasound was inconclusive, they would proceed to a CT.
At this point, my wife called me. I asked what the pediatrician’s reason was for not proceeding directly to a CT, and she told my wife that CT involves radiation exposure equivalent to 1000 X-ray exams and there are studies that show that this increases cancer risk in children. She also said this was close to the male gonads, and she was worried about reproductive effects.
Coincidentally, on the same day my son went to the hospital I submitted a revised draft manuscript to the journal Dose Response concluding that risks from diagnostic imaging are still “too low to be detectable or are nonexistent” contrary to hysterical claims otherwise.
I informed the pediatrician (through my wife) of my credentials, told her that there were no reliable studies that showed increases in cancer risk from CT scanning, and there were no human studies at all that showed increases in mutations in the offspring of parents exposed to radiation.
I made it very clear that they were to proceed with the CT and not waste time on the ultrasound. I told her that a cup of water contains probably a thousand raindrops, but that doesn’t make it a drowning hazard – and by the same token, a CT scan is not dangerous just because it gives a higher dose than other imaging modalities. To her credit, the pediatrician relented quickly. The CT showed an inflamed appendix, and my son had an immediate appendectomy. He is doing well, and the staff said the surgery involved only minimal risks because we caught the appendicitis so early. I note that this was because of the CT exam.
Let me pause here to say that my son received excellent medical care. The pediatrician wanted to give the best and most appropriate medical care to my son. She is not the enemy. However, she admitted that she has no particular expertise in radiation effects.
That’s what makes articles like this one so dangerous: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/31/opinion/we-are-giving-ourselves-cancer.html?_r=0 .
It leads well-intentioned healthcare providers to give detrimental advice to their patients, and it leads parents to make decisions which are not in the interests of their children. Before yesterday, I knew in the abstract sense that this was happening, but it just got very real for me.
I wanted to pass this experience along to encourage all of you to keep fighting the good fight. Radiophobia kills and injures people, and it must be stamped out.
Brant Ulsh, Ph.D, CHP
Dr. Ulsh’s personal experience initiated a lively discussion among SARI members. In the near future, I hope to publish some of the best responses here, but I need to obtain some specific permissions first.
One thing that I learned from the discussion was that the pediatrician’s initial response was probably influenced by the medical profession’s reliance on a textbook titled Radiobilogy for the Radiologist. The book is often the source for creating medical board questions and answers, so its prescriptions play an important role in the medical field.
I won’t pretend to have read the book. Many of the people in SARI have read it and have been tested on its contents as part of their certification process. I did some searching for other work by the same author (Eric J. Hall) and found a 1991 paper titled “The Molecular Biology of Radiation Carcinogenesis” by Hall, Eric J. and Freyer, Greg A. SARI members have confirmed that this paragraph illustrates the basic model underlying his prescriptions.
“As our level of sophistication has progressed from the whole organism to the tissue, to the cell, to the chromosome, and to the gene, we have arrived at the basic building block of biological material, the arrangement and sequence of nucleic acids in DNA. The diverse biological effects of ionizing radiations can all ultimately be understood and interpreted in terms of changes and or disruptions in these base sequences.”
That statement indicates that Hall’s work overlooks the evolutionary response mechanisms that protect complex, multicellular organisms. Hall’s described process of increasing “sophistication” in molecular biology ignores defense systems that have been uncovered by research on cells, tissues, and animals as described by works like Feinendegen’s chapter on Hormesis in Medical Radiology: Radiation Oncology.
The idea that one can determine the biological effects of any external influence on complex, evolved creatures by finding out what happens on a molecular level strikes me as equivalent to deciding that a single minded focus on transistor responses to electrical signals will provide an understanding of the functioning of a modern computer.
It seems blindingly obvious that a system level understanding must be combined with molecular level sensing in order to predict overall effects.
PS: Of course, I might be a little biased in my view of the importance of system level analysis and understanding – my highest academic degree is an MS in Systems Technology.