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“You should fear a doctor with an x-ray machine as you would a six year old waving a loaded gun. Most doctors...give you the same assurances that I was given more than thirty years ago by my professors in medical school. They’ll tell you that radiation is at such a low level that it can’t do any harm. That’s just as much hogwash today as it was then."
-Robert S. Mendelsohn, M.D.
(Former associate professor of medicine, University of Illinois Medical School and chairman of the state’s medical licensing committee).
X-rays given off by medical equipment are to blame for thousands of cancers every year, according to a recent study by researchers at England’s Oxford University. The recent findings have some scientists saying that, though X-rays can be helpful as diagnostic tools, they should not be used as frequently as they are in today’s hospitals. “X-rays are of enormous benefit for such things as early cancer detection, but medical experts need to be aware of the quantifiable risks of X-rays,” researcher Amy Berrington, told New Scientist magazine. X-rays account for the largest source of exposures to radiation and are increasingly in use in the United States. New Scientist reported that X-raying patients has multiplied by as much as 20 percent since the 1980s. Also, the rising number of times doctors have called for computed tomography (CT) scans, which also use X-rays, has added markedly to exposures.
“In everyday practice, those ordering radiological procedures should think carefully about the benefits and risks to their patients for each examination,” said Peter Herzog of Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany. The findings have compelled doctors to reevaluate a 1981 study by Drs. Richard Doll and Richard Peto, which estimated that 0.5 percent of all deaths from cancer in the United States were attributable to medical X-rays. Around the world, the study found that X-rays from medical equipment cause an estimated 18,500 cancers every year. In the United States, it is believed that some 0.9 percent of all cancers are due to X-rays.
This is not the first time health experts have warned of a link between the increased usage of medical X-rays and a rise in cancers. In 1999, John W. Gofman, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted a study in which he compared death rates in each of the country’s nine census divisions with the average number of physicians per 100,000 people in these divisions. What Gofman found surprised many. Gofman discovered that while overall death rates dropped in areas where there were a lot of physicians, the rate increased in two specific categories: cancer and heart disease. Gofman concluded that the medical X-rays are largely to blame for these increases. “This is a serious public health problem,” said Gofman. “We’re talking about the two biggest causes of death in this countrycancer and heart diseasewhich together amount to 45 percent of all deaths. Medical X-rays are a major cause of these deaths.” Gofman notes that radiation dosages delivered by medical equipment has decreased in recent years, thanks to new technology. But he said that few doctors monitor the cumulative doses that patients get, especially women suffering breast cancer and heart patients.
Wilhelm Roentgen discovered X-rays in 1895. Within the year, physicians were using X-rays for diagnosis and as a new way of gathering evidence to protect themselves against malpractice suits. Almost immediately--during 1895-96--it also became clear that X-rays could cause serious medical problems. Some physicians received burns that wouldn't heal, requiring amputation of their fingers. Others developed fatal cancers. Radiation treatment for benign (non-cancerous) diseases became a medical craze that lasted for over 40 years. Large groups of people were needlessly irradiated for such minor problems as ringworm and acne. Many women had their ovaries irradiated as a treatment for depression. Such uses of X-rays would today be viewed as quackery, but many of them were accepted medical practice into the 1950s.
Physicians weren't the only ones enthusiastic about X-ray therapies. If you get a large enough dose of X-rays, your hair falls out--so, beauty shops installed X-ray equipment to remove their customers' unwanted facial and body hair. Roentgen's discovery of X-rays in 1895 led directly to Henri Becquerel's discovery of the radioactivity of uranium in 1896, and then to the discovery of radium by Marie Curie and her husband Pierre in 1898--for which Becquerel and the Curies were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in 1903 (twenty years later, Madame Curie died of acute lymphoblastic leukemia). Soon, along with X-rays, physicians were prescribing radioactive radium. Radium treatments were prescribed for heart trouble, impotence, ulcers, depression, arthritis, cancer, high blood pressure, blindness, tuberculosis, and other ailments. Soon radioactive toothpaste, then radioactive skin cream, was being marketed.
In Germany, chocolate bars containing radium were sold as a "rejuvenator." In the U.S.A., hundreds of thousands of people began drinking bottled water laced with radium as a general elixir known popularly as "liquid sunshine." As recently as 1952, Life magazine wrote about the beneficial effects of inhaling radioactive radon gas in deep mines. Numerous studies now indicate that the only demonstrable health effect of radon gas is lung cancer. Thus, the medical world and popular culture together embraced X-rays (and other radioactive emanations) as miraculous remedies, gifts to humanity from the foremost geniuses of an inventive age.
It is incomprehensible that any competent, unbiased doctor could take the position that routine medical/dental, pre-employment, immigration, and now airport x-rays, do not pose a menace to all living cells through which they pass, leaving behind a painful and costly trail of destruction. At the dentist and doctor’s office, seeing as it is they who stand safely behind a lead wall, it will be you, not them who may develop cancer from the x-ray beam they are about to shoot through your body. Therefore, the final decision on whether the benefits outweigh the risks, rightfully belongs with you, today’s innocent patient, turned tomorrow’s potential cancer victim.
Ask your doctor if s/he can produce even a single study which proves that radiation when combined with the hundreds of other known carcinogens spilling into our air, water, and food is in fact safe? He couldn’t even produce a study which took so many variables into account. Why on earth should only “medical doctors” be permitted air time to express opinions on public health matters which impact the health and liberty of literally every single citizen in the nation?
There is a huge gulf between the term permissible and the word safe. So called risk/benefit assessments which attempt to balance “health effects” against “economic benefits” are too often structured to focus on risks and benefits to society (read governments and big business) as opposed to families or individuals (people).
A ten year old boy exposed to a full mouth dental x-ray exam has a one-in-600 chance of developing cancer in later life. Just one full body CT scan exposes a person to “...about the same dose of radiation as if you had been standing a mile and a half away from the atom bomb exploded at Hiroshima. Even a single x-ray increases a 3-month-old’s chances of developing cancer in later life by 10 times.
For the past 20 years, another important scientist concerned about excessive exposure to X-rays has been Dr. John Gofman. In his autobiography, Morgan describes Gofman this way: “…John Gofman, a scientist, holds degrees in both chemistry and medicine. Along with Glenn Seaborg, Gofman co-discovered uranium-233, and he also was the first one to isolate plutonium. In spite of these achievements, Gofman has yet to receive the recognition due him; in my opinion, he is one of the leading scientists of the twentieth century.” For 20 years or more, Gofman has been publishing studies of the hazards of low-level radiation. His latest book fills 700 pages addressing this hypothesis: “Medical radiation is a highly important cause (probably the principal cause) of cancer mortality in the United States during the twentieth century.” In other words, Gofman believes that medical X-rays are the major cause of cancer and heart disease in the US. Gofman’s work is careful, thorough and clearly written, so most of the health physicists of this world probably cannot be expected to take it lying down.
The Law of Unintended Consequences refers to the observation that human activities, in addition to their intended results, almost always have unanticipated consequences--ranging from unpleasant to tragic. One unintended consequence of the Cold War has been a half-century of non-cautious use of medical x-rays, resulting in premature death for millions of Americans from cancer and coronary heart disease. "Non-cautious use of medical x-rays," means the use of x-rays for medical imaging at much higher radiation doses than the doses required to obtain good images. During the Cold War (1945-1991), both the free world and the communist world relied upon nuclear deterrence to protect their homelands from the presumed aggressive intent of the other.
The governments of both sides felt obliged to let "nothing, but nothing" interfere with the production and test-explosions of their nuclear weapons. The free world anticipated an inherent and serious disadvantage in this competition. The communist world permitted neither free speech nor a free press. And it did not tolerate citizens who tried to receive information across the Iron Curtain. By contrast, the free world has a free press, which meant that only in the free world would there be any public information about the peacetime health consequences from making and test-exploding nuclear bombs.
In the early 1950s, open-air explosions of nuclear bombs began at the Nevada test site. Radioactive fallout was landing virtually all over the country. When radioactive atoms decay, they emit ionizing radiation--which is the type of radiation emitted also by x-ray machines. Radioactive atoms are part of military and civilian nuclear enterprises at every step of the way--from uranium mining, to plutonium production in nuclear reactors, to the fission products created by operating nuclear reactors, to the fision products created by exploding nuclear bombs. A civilian 1,000-megawatt electrical nuclear reactor produces as many long-lived radioactive atoms during each year of its operation, as does the explosion of about 1,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs. As radioactive fallout from the bomb tests drifted down from the skies, vigorous protests erupted, with Dr. Linus Pauling in a leading role. Such protests were regarded by the U.S. government as a serious threat to national security during the Cold War. "Nothing but nothing" must weaken public support for nuclear deterrence. What if fear of fallout should evolve into the sentiment, "better Red than Dead?"
The government felt it had to quell public fear of radiation...which meant ionizing radiation. Back then, the public did not fear other kinds of radiation--microwaves, radio waves, infrared waves, ultrasound waves, visible and invisible light waves, etc. Prior to World War II, ionizing radiation was a known cause of human cancer (especially leukemia, and lung cancer), bone disintegration (from ingestion of radium), unhealable skin ulcers and skin disintegration (from excessive exposure to x-rays, gamma rays, alpha particles), and inheritable mutations (in animals). Peacetime nuclear activities (military and civilian) expose the general public to low doses of ionizing radiation. The government's solution to quell public fear of "radiation" was to have its agents assert--for decades after it was no longer true--that evidence of harm from ionizing radiation comes exclusively from exposure to high doses, and that evidence of human harm from low doses does not exist. The intended consequence was to convince fearful people that they were wimps with irrational fears of a danger which was too trivial to detect and "just hypothetical."
What the government and its agents failed to point out in the 1950s and early 1960s was that no studies capable of producing evidence about low doses had ever been completed. In the absence of evidence that low doses cause harm, the prudent position is that low doses do cause harm. And that is why the protestors against open-air nuclear-bomb testing finally prevailed. In 1963, the U.S.A., U.K., and the U.S.S.R. agreed to move such bomb-testing undeground. The U.S. government's position became--and remains--that it will behave as if there is no safe dose of ionizing radiation, to which it almost always adds that danger at low doses remains "just hypothetical" and "could be zero."
In recent years, Karl Morgan has described and criticized the work of the International Committee for Radiation Protection. Morgan says the ICRP has suffered from two major blind spots: the Committee has never focused on harm to the public from excessive exposure to medical X-rays, and by the mid-1960s, the ICRP began setting standards for radioactivity that protected the nuclear industry rather than the public. According to Morgan, the ICRP began ignoring serious radiation hazards in the early 1960s. He said the period of atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons by the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the U.S.S.R. is a sad page in the history of civilized man. Without question, it was the cause of hundreds of thousands of cancer deaths. Yet, there was complete silence on the part of the ICRP.
During the years 1960-1965, most members of the ICRP either worked directly with the nuclear weapons industry or indirectly received most of their funding for their research from this industry. They were reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them. In the 1970s, the situation grew worse after a series of studies revealed that radiation was even more dangerous than previously believed. In 1974, Baruch Modan showed that a woman's chances of breast cancer were increased by X-ray doses as low as 1.6 rem. In 1977, Thomas Mancuso and others reported that workers at the Hanford plutonium facility were dying of cancers from radiation doses as low as 3 rem, accumulated over many years. (The worker safety standard at the time was 5 rem per-year). Karl Morgan says these studies threw the nuclear industry into a panic.
"Concerned that its very existence was threatened if the public believed that there was an increased risk of cancer at these low levels of exposure, the nuclear-industrial-complex determined that it would respond vigorously to all challengers," Morgan reports in his autobiography. "As a result, health physics in recent decades has sacrificed its integrity," Morgan said in 1999. The ICRP turned a blind eye to other problems affecting public health: excessive exposures from medical and dental X-rays. Early in the 1950s, a series of studies had shown that X-rays were more dangerous than previously known. In 1950, H.C. March showed that radiologists were nine times as likely as other physicians to die of leukemia. In 1956, Alice Stewart showed that a single X-ray of a fetus in the womb would double the likelihood of childhood leukemia. The subject of excessive medical exposure was a no-no with ICRP because ICRP was founded under the auspices of the International Congress of Radiology (ICR), and radiologists did not want any restraints or interference in their use of diagnostic X-rays. There was a serious conflict of interest with ICR sponsorship of ICRP.
In the mid-1960s, Morgan's division of the Oakridge Laboratory studied the X-ray doses to which U.S. children were exposed from a mass chest x-ray program. Starting in the 1950s, portable X-ray machines in special trucks were brought to schools, and hundreds of thousands of US children were given chest X-rays. The Oak Ridge study found that each of these children was receiving an X-ray dose of 2 to 3 rem; Morgan knew that children were getting a dose of X-rays 130 to 200 times as high as the dose needed to produce an adequate X-ray film--not to mention that most of the children did not need a chest X-ray at all.
In the 1940s and 1950s, many shoe stores installed fluoroscopic (X-ray) shoe-fitting machines. By 1949, a study had shown that shoe-fitting machines were giving children high doses of radiation. Again, the ICRP showed no interest in the subject. Morgan and his colleagues calculated that medical X-rays accounted for 90% of all radiation from human-created sources. Morgan showed in 1963 that the average U.S. citizen was exposed each year to as much radiation from medical X-rays as from natural background sources. In other words the use of medical X-rays was doubling the average person's exposure to radiation in the U.S. Morgan's point was that the same benefits could be achieved at much lower doses by using up-to-date equipment and techniques. The medical community turned a deaf ear.
For many years, Morgan and others wrote about the hazards of excessive and unnecessary radiation exposures from medicine and dentistry--an effort he describes as "twenty years of frustrating failures." In his autobiography, Morgan says it was "a highlight of my life's work" when President Lyndon Johnson signed Public Law 90-602, the Radiation Control for Health and Safety Act of 1968, which set minimum federal standards for X-ray equipment. However, the law does nothing to curb unnecessary and excessive X-ray exposures, which still occur routinely.
With the Cold War now over, what explains the government's resistance to endorsing and disseminating the overwhelming evidence that danger from ionizing radiation is proportional to dose, right down to zero dose? Attachment to the "just hypothetical" line may arise from the estimated half-trillion dollars it will cost to recapture the radioactive poisons released from dozens of bomb-making facilities, and to pay injury claims from workers, soldiers, and other citizens. Fifty years of ridiculing the fear of low-dose ionizing radiation has had a tragic unintended consequence. Two or three generations of practicing physicians and their professors at medical schools have mistakenly believed that danger from x-ray imaging procedures was either absent or trivial. The result is that x-ray practitioners have not made maximum efforts to reduce x-ray doses during imaging. They would not even know if their doses were falling or rising, because very few practitioners bother to measure the skin-doses they give to patients, although it is easy and inexpensive to do.
There is powerful evidence that x-ray doses could at least be cut in half on the average and still produce good images. About 250,000 persons each year in the U.S.A. are dying prematurely from cancer and coronary heart disease due to unnecessary x-ray doses they accumulated earlier in life during x-ray imaging procedures. This has been going on for 50 years and continues. Indeed, per capita dose from x-ray imaging is probably rising today, not falling, because of the increasing use (without dose measurement) of CT scans, and of fluoroscopic imaging during surgery and cardiac catheterization. Carcinogenic and atherogenic x-ray-induced mutations co-act with other agents to cause cancer and coronary heart disease. The medical use of higher x-ray doses than necessary has killed millions of Americans already. Each preventable death is a tragedy. The combined tragedies have occurred as an unintended consequence of the Cold War, because the Cold War inspired the fervent but mistaken assertion that danger from low-dose ionizing radiation was "just hypothetical" or trivial. Moreover, concerns about national security probably soothed the consequences of those who insulted and de-funded the dissenters.
An increasing number of doctors are contesting the claim that annual mammograms decrease women's risk of dying from breast cancer.
Danish researcher Dr. Peter Gotzsche first made this claim in a study published in The Lancet in October 2006. Gotzsche had re-analyzed the studies originally done on the benefits of mammograms and found them unconvincing. Since then, other doctors have begun to assert that in addition to failing to offer protection, mammogramswhich involve exposing patients to radiationmay actually increase women's risk of cancer.
"The latest evidence shifts the balance towards harm and away from benefits," said Dr. Michael Baum of University College in London.
According to Canadian columnist Dr. W. Gifford -Jones, women between the ages of 40 and 49 who have regular mammograms are twice as likely to die from breast cancer as women who are not screened. "Experts say you have to screen 2,000 women for 10 years for one benefit," he wrote recently.
Gifford-Jones also points to other risks, from the physical to the psychological. According to some authorities, the squeezing of women's breasts during mammograms may rupture blood vessels, causing cancer to spread to other parts of the body and actually increasing a patient's risk of death. He also pointed to the trauma suffered by women who receive false positives from their mammograms, and to the dangerous sense of security felt by those who receive false negatives.
Studies show that mammograms fail to detect cancer 30 percent of the time in women aged 40 to 49. In addition, it can take eight years before a breast tumor is large enough to detect, by which time the cancer could have spread to other parts of the body.
"Mammograms actually harm far more women than they help," said Mike Adams, author of "The Healing Power of Sunlight and Vitamin D," a free report that teaches prevention strategies for breast and prostate cancer. "They are used more as a recruiting tool to ensnare women into a system of medical control based on false diagnosis and fear tactics. Most women then give in to chemotherapy, surgery or radiation treatments that may ultimately harm them or even kill them."
For the past 20 years, another prominent scientist concerned about excessive exposure to X-rays has been Dr. John Gofman. In his autobiography, Morgan describes Gofman this way: "John Gofman, a scientist, holds degrees in both chemistry and medicine. Along with Glenn Seaborg, Gofman co-discovered uranium-233, and he also was the first one to isolate plutonium. In spite of these achievements, Gofman has yet to receive the recognition due him; in my opinion, he is one of the leading scientists of the twentieth century." For 20 years or more, Gofman has been publishing studies about the hazards of low-level radiation. His latest book fills 700 pages addressing this hypothesis: "Medical radiation is a highly important cause (probably the principal cause) of cancer mortality in the United States during the twentieth century." Gofman believes that medical X-rays are the major cause of cancer and heart disease in the U.S. Gofman's work is careful, thorough and clearly written, so most of the health physicists of this world probably cannot be expected to take it lying down. John Gofman is a medical doctor with a Ph.D. in nuclear and physical chemistry. He is Professor Emeritus of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the faculty at the University of California Medical School at San Francisco.
During his long career, he has pursued two separate fields of research: heart disease, and the health effects of low-level radiation. He has won several awards for original research into the causes of atherosclerosis, which is the growth of fatty "plaque" inside the blood vessels, often causing fatal heart attacks. In 1974, the American College of Cardiology selected him as one of the 25 leading researchers in cardiology of the past quarter-century. In the early 1960s, the U.S. atomic Energy Commission (AEC) asked Gofman to develop a Biomedical Research Division at the AEC's Livermore National Laboratory (LNL), to evaluate the health effects of all types of nuclear activities.
In 1970, he became convinced that radiation is more dangerous than previously believed, and he spoke out against Project Plowshare. He also called for a five-year moratorium on the AEC's plan to develop 1,000 commercial nuclear power plants. By 1974, Gofman's government funding was cut. He then began a series of books on the dangers of radiation. Gofman is a superb teacher. In his books, he interprets the raw data, where it came from, its shortcomings, how it might be improved (or why we're stuck with what we have). Nothing of importance is omitted. As a result, Gofman's books are lengthy--typically 500 to 900 pages filled with tables of data, accompanied by detailed explanations. His work has already changed the way the world views the dangers of radiation, and eventually, after a long fight--revolutionized the way the world looks at medical radiation. His work will save, cumulatively, tens of millions of lives.
In his latest (1999) book, Gofman presents strong evidence that medical radiation is a major cause of cancer and of atherosclerosis (coronary heart disease). By medical radiation, Dr. Gofman is referring mainly to X-rays, including fluoroscopy and C.T. (CAT) scans. The mechanism is simple: Radiation causes genetic mutations that eventually give rise to disease. Gofman is not saying that medical radiation is necessarily the only cause of cancer and coronary heart disease. He does not mean that cancer is not caused by smoking, poor diet, genetic inheritance, pesticides, diesel exhaust, dioxin and toxic chemicals encountered on the job. Cancer and heart disease both have multiple causes. For cancer (or an atherosclerotic plaque) to develop, a cell must undergo several separate gene mutations. Most occur from exposure to gene-damaging substances in the environment.
It is important to point out that Gofman is not opposed to medical X-rays. Rather, he is opposed to unnecessary exposure from X-rays. He and others have shown over the years that medical X-ray exposures in the U.S. could be cut by at least 50% with no loss of medical information. The careful use of modern X-ray equipment and techniques can reduce X-ray exposure by half (or more) without sacrificing any medical benefits. Thus, at least half the cancers caused by medical X-rays are completely unnecessary. Gofman calculates that in 1993, 50% of all cancers in women and 74% of all cancers in men were attributable to X-rays. About 500,000 people die of cancer each year in the U.S.
If 60% of these deaths are attributable to X-rays and half are unnecessary, we are talking about 150,000 unnecessary cancer deaths each year in the U.S. Gofman calculates that the proportion of coronary heart disease (CHD) attributable to X-rays is slightly higher than the proportion of cancers. Among men in 1993, 63% of CHD deaths were attributable to X-rays, and 78% among women. So, in rough numbers, 70% of CHD deaths are attributable to X-rays, Gofman believes. Since CHD caused roughly 460,000 deaths in the U.S. in 1993, then, if Gofman is right, 70% (or 322,000) of these deaths are attributable to X-rays, and half of these (or 161,000) are unnecessary. He found disease statistics for the entire U.S. population, broken down into nine census districts (1940 to 1990 for cancer, and 1950 to 1990 for coronary heart disease). Then he correlated these statistics, year by year, to the number of physicians per 100,000 population in each of the nine census districts. The density of physicians per 100,000 population provides a relative measure of the medical radiation per 100,000 population in the nine districts by year.
Gofman has shown that cancer death rates rise in lock-step with increasing density of physicians in a census district, while non-cancer deaths decline in lock-step with increasing density of physicians per 100,000 population, except in the case of coronary heart disease, which follows the rising pattern of cancer. Thus, Gofman's hypothesis, that CHD is linked to medical radiation, "fell out of the data." Because he had decades of experience researching the causes of CHD (he has written three books on heart disease), and because he knows the radiation literature so well, Gofman was able to put two and two together: Radiation induces mutations in the coronary arteries, giving rise to what he calls dysfunctional clones (mini-tumors) in the smooth muscle lining the arteries. Using his "physician density" method, Gofman estimates that medical radiation caused 83% of female breast cancer in the U.S. in 1993. Using a completely different method, Gofman estimated in 1995 that medical radiation was responsible for 75% of U.S. breast cancer. The two estimates, by completely different methods, are remarkably similar.
From the book "Playing With Fire: How To Protect Your Health From X-Rays"
by James P. Hilton, Ph.D.
"The People's Paramedic"
Airport Backscatter x-ray machines, sometimes called "virtual strip searches" for their ability to allow security men to see beneath people's clothing, are setting the stage for a future epidemic of cancer. Thus far, news coverage has focused almost exclusively around the more emotionally charged, privacy concerns. But the looming issue is whether repeated bombardment with radiation is "planting the seeds" of disease. In light of the abundance of evidence attesting to radiation's proven dangers, it is unfathomable that any competent, unbiased doctor could take the position that x-rays do not pose a menace to all living cells through which they pass, leaving behind a painful and costly trail of destruction.
Drawing on sources like The Mayo Clinic and The Radiological Society of North America as well as interviews with prominent radiologists, molecular biologists, and medical doctors, ionizing (penetrating) radiation in any dose, no matter how tiny, causes genetic mutations, which set all living cells exposed on the path to cancer. X-rays are considered ionizing radiation. However, the manufacturer of the new Backscatter machines, currently being piloted at several airports, along with the FDA have given assurances of the device's "complete safety" for everyone. It is undisputed within scientific circles that even a single x-ray increases a three-month-old's chances of developing cancer in later life by at least 10 times, and yet they have plowed ahead approving up to 5000 backscatter images per person, per year. It's unconscionable.
Predictably the product's manufacturer spins out the usual half truths, citing "very low level of x-rays'" and boasting the opinion, packaged to appear as fact, that, "The system is completely safe for all persons..." Back peddling authorities are now trying to appease the public by saying everyone will be allowed to opt out. Maybe, for now.
Also a risk are other non-medical uses of radiation, including pre-employment, dental and chiropractic x-rays, newly developed "Silent Guardian" microwave crowd control devices and even police radar beams pointed at drivers that might contribute to cataracts.
Lives get cut short and people die totally avoidable, agonizing deaths, long before their time, just so doctors can pay off their “investment’ in an office x-ray suite, or so some entrepreneur who invents a new machine for airports can make a fortune, or so hospital chains and insurance companies can generate a profit, or so a sales rep who sells x-ray machines can collect his commission.
It will not be easy to convince dentists and physicians to take special care to minimize radiation administered to their patients. Familiarity breeds contempt, and many physicians and dentists treat X-rays as if they are entirely harmless. Physicians and dentists want to document damage and injury for insurance purposes. But, a patient can scribble a note such as, "I broke my tooth (or any other condition), and I don't want an X-ray." Just sign it, and the insurance company is required to accept it.
A 1997, Silicon Valley breakthrough in X-ray technology was destined to revolutionize medical care. This breakthrough is the digital X-ray, a development which means no more waiting for film to be developed. A radiologist will be able to look at an image as it's being taken and make an immediate diagnosis. The new device features a silicon-coated glass panel the size of a pizza box. The resolution is as good as film, and they reveal greater detail than conventional X-rays. Patients will still have to "open wide" and "bite down," but in place of dental film, they'll close their mouths around electronic sensors.
With the new technology, instead of the trip to the developing tank, dentist and patient will watch images come up on a computer screen seconds after the device is inserted into the patient's mouth. The images will be higher resolution than film images and will be stored in computer memory from which they can be easily retrieved, combined, and manipulated to supply more information. The chemical waste associated with film processing will be eliminated. Most significantly, patients will be exposed to one tenth the x-ray dosage typically delivered today. The conventional way to x-ray teeth is with a piece of thick film that is moderately sensitive to x rays. To increase its efficiency and lower the required dosage of X-rays, the film can be sandwiched between sheets of plastic called intensifying screens. The disadvantage of using the screens is that they scatter radiation, resulting in decreased spatial resolution and accuracy.
The ultimate aim is to avoid the use of film for medical x-ray imaging. They're starting small, making devices for dental radiography, because the electronics are easier to make. Eventually standard 11x14-inch radiology film and developing tanks will be replaced by electronic detectors, high definition display screens, and computer-stored data. These technologies will simplify procedures in a clinic or hospital's radiology department, and patients will be exposed to much lower doses of radiation.