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The Leading Cause of Breast Cancer?


Profiteers in the medical CT scan business took a big hit last week from a major new government report on the causes of breast cancer.

Published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, the exhaustive analysis found that medical radiation, particularly the large radiation dose delivered by CT scans, is the foremost identifiable cause of breast cancer.[1]

Almost 230,480 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed this year in the United States, and about 40,000 women will die of the disease, roughly one out of every 3,875 women.

The new Institute of Medicine report probably doesn’t sit well with the industry, hospitals and clinics that make so many millions of dollars selling and over-using CT machines. The authors suggest that women avoid “unnecessary” or “inappropriate” medical radiation, a thinly veiled criticism of the industry that will give you a CT scan for a tooth ache if you don’t object to it.

In 1980, there were 3 million CT scans performed in this country. The number rose to 62 million in 2006,[2] to about 70 million by 2007,[3] and, according to NBC, to 72 million this year.[4] It’s a growth industry that doesn’t care if it promotes tumor growth.

The IOM committee made several suggestions for preventive actions that women can take, and the very first one is to “avoid inappropriate medical radiation exposure.” In the “Question & Answer” section of the IOM analysis online, the authors recommend “Avoiding medical radiation and hormone therapy, unless they are medically necessary, is a good idea.”

This suggestion has a vexing corollary since so-called mammography is just a lower dose of X-radiation given directly to breast tissue. Yet the new IOM study’s authors say in a footnote, “While recognizing the risks of ionizing radiation exposure, particularly for certain higher-dose methods (such as CT scans), it is not the committee’s intent to dissuade women from routine mammography screening.” Yet the advisability of mammography has been under attack ever since the British medical journal The Lancet in Oct. 2006 reported on a study by Dr. Peter Gotzsche that found the produced no health benefits. The late Dr. John Gofman argued for his entire career that X-rays caused more breast cancer then they detect, a position defended at length by Dr. Samuel Epstein in his book “The Politics of Cancer.”

CT Scans may cause 29,000 cancers and 15,000 cancer deaths every year

NBC News said in 2009 that each whole-body CT scan can deliver as much radiation in 10 minutes as 440 chest X-rays.[5]

The IOM’s authoritative warning against CT scans has to be considered in view of a 2009 study led by the National Cancer Institute which showed that CT scans administered in the year 2007 alone may have contributed to 29,000 new cancer cases and nearly 15,000 cancer deaths in the United States. NBC News noted the report in its Dec. 14, 2009 broadcast under the headline, “15,000 will die from CT scans done in 1 year.”[6]

Dr. Rita Redberg, U. of Calif. San Francisco, told NBC, “We’re getting a lot of radiation from CT scans, there’s a lot of variability in the radiation that we’re getting from different types of CT scans, and there are a lot of excess cancers.”[7]

In view of the license to kill that CT scanners seem to have been given, patients considering medical radiation have to ask themselves Dirty Harry’s famous question, “Do I feel lucky?”

John LaForge works on the staff of Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin, and edits its Quarterly newsletter.




[1] The New York Times, Dec. 8, 2011, p. A3

[4] NBC News, “15,000 will die from CT scans done in 1 year,” Dec. 14, 2009,

[5] Ibid

[6] Archives of Internal Medicine, “Projected cancer risks from computed tomographic scans performed in the United States in 2007,” Dec. 14, 2009

[7] NBC News, “15,000 will die from CT scans done in 1 year,” Dec. 14, 2009,

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

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