Cancer isn't one disease - it's many, but each shares the same name. Similarly it has many causes, but various forces and industry groups have combined to ensure that some of these either are not discussed, researched or acknowledged.
Ionizing radiation - which occurs with x-rays and CT scans, dental practices, in the nuclear industry, and from the decay of radioactive substances - has, in medical speak, been regarded as a 'controversial' carcinogen. Transcribed into English, this means that a few on the fringes of our society may think x-rays and the like cause cancer, but doctors and those who matter don't believe a word of it.
Well, a major new study, which has involved more than 407,000 workers in the nuclear industry, has shifted ionizing radiation's status from 'controversial' to a definite carcinogen.
The research team, headed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in France, has concluded that the risk faced by nuclear industry workers is greater than thought, but is still within the limits on which current safety levels and precautions have been set. In other words, there's no need to panic, and our safety precautions are adequate.
Ionizing radiation is measured in millisieverts, or mSv, and our health authorities reckon that the public shouldn't be exposed to more than 1 mSv a year. This, for a start, is a nonsense because background radiation emitted naturally from decaying radioactive substances in the earth alone reaches 3 mSv every year. Let's add to that the levels of ionizing radiation to which the average medical patient might be exposed.
Let's assume he has a CT scan once a year. That immediately exposes him to 10 mSv a year. Then he has a radiogram. That's another 4 mSv. Now let's extrapolate that over a five-year period and we have natural radiation levels of 15 mSv from the earth, 50 mSv from regular CT scans, and 20 mSv from routine radiograms. That's a total, over five years, of 85 mSv. And guess what? That's just 15 mSv lower than someone who works for five years in a nuclear power plant, and way above the levels considered safe by our governments.
So what does this all mean? Returning to the new French study, an exposure of 100 mSv over five years increases by nearly 10 per cent deaths from all cancers other than leukemia and lung cancers. Add those back in and the mortality rate from all cancers rises to 19 per cent as an average, but in some sections of the study rises as high as 84.7 per cent.
It's clear that ionizing radiation is a major cause of cancer, and that any additional exposure - from routine scans and the like - is a risk too far. And that's not controversial.
(Source: British Medical Journal, 2005; 331: 77-80).
* To understand your exposure to harmful rays from a range of household objects such as mobile phones, microwaves and halogen lamps, you must read the WDDTY Guide to Electro-Pollution. It gives you all the facts, and steps you can take to reduce your exposure. It's yours by clicking here: http://www.wddty.com/shop/e-books/safe-living.html