CT scans are but one of the most common diagnostic tools that use ionizing radiation to see inside our bodies to locate tumor tissue or lymphnodes that can then be measured to assess danger or monitor effects from therapies. Ionizing radiation damage to cellular DNA is the risk side of CT scanning since ionizing radiation is quite good at breaking chemical bonds (radiolysis) in the cells of our tissues. If you can envision the double helix of our DNA, a twisted ladder-like structure, it contains all the coded information we need to keep reproducing cells that are healthy and functioning properly. Ionizing radiation will cause single and double stranded breaks of the DNA incells that are usually either repaired or given signals to die (apoptosis) if they are not repairable. Double stranded breaks in our DNA are particularly hard to repair and we are dependent on healthy immune system functions for those damaged cells to be repaired properly or destroyed. When one has a cancer of the immune system like CLL and when we are often subjected to treatments that further suppress or increase the damage to immune function you can see where I am going with this.
TP53, ATM and RB1 are tumor suppressor genes that are frequently mutated or deleted in CLL patients. Any increase of exposure to ionizing radiation increases formation of highly reactive free radicals. Reactive Free Radicals are the reason we are encouraged to include daily consumption of anti-oxidants (think green tea, vitamin C etc.). The resulting amount of damaged cells that are not properly repaired or fail to obey signal commands to commit apoptosis will reproduce imperfectly to become oncogenes that can eventually cause cancers.
Our doctor advocate, turned CLL patient, Brian Koffman correctly reminds us “We are all in this together” and I believe there is a need for all of us, as a community, to bring pressure on the powers that be to reduce radiation exposure through an examination of how the system is currently run and what we might experience in the way of radiation exposure on our respective journeys.
The message I want to impart should be free as possible from misunderstandings that could emerge and distract from the points I am hoping to leave you with. In that spirit I feel the necessity to say plainly what my perspectives on CT scanning are NOT About. The following series of posts on CT scanning are NOT about:
1) Evil greedy pharmaceutical companies.
2) Bloated bureaucratic regulatory agencies, e.g. FDA in the US.
3) Exploitation by callous greedy doctors.
4) Evil Hospitals and Clinics over using CT scans for profit.
5) Scaring you away from getting ANY CT scans.
6) Avoiding Clinical Trials because of CT scan requirements.
7) Or most of all, the opinions based on patient or care giver experiences that argue the paradox of how CT scanning had discovered a secondary cancer, thus maybe saving a life or how the radiation from CT scans may have caused a secondary cancer, thereby shortening a life. Each is unprovable conjecture.