Friday, August 10, 2007

Annual Scans

I’m scheduled for post-treatment scans tomorrow. It turns out I’m a bit behind schedule, but better than never. I’m booked for a full-body bone scan, chest X-ray, abdominal ultrasound, and brain MRI to check for cancer in the bones, lungs, liver, and brain. But I’ve been researching on the Internet and have found out that a bone scan exposes the body to radiation levels equivalent to 200 X-rays. Not good, since radiation causes cancer.

Plus, a bone scan doesn’t differentiate between a tumor, infection, or arthritis so if the scan showed something, I’d still have to have an MRI or PET-CT scan anyway. So I’ve decided to cancel everything but the chest X-Ray and get a whole body MRI instead. MRIs don’t show cancer in the lungs very well so I’m still going to have the X-ray.

I also found an article about a survey of doctors asking them how much radiation was in a bone scan. Fewer than 5% got the answer right. Most of them thought it was the same as a few X-rays. I asked my oncologist the question and she said “double an X-ray, and with today’s improved radioactive tracers, maybe even less”. So doctors are recommending bone scans to patients and telling them the radiation exposure is “minimal”, but they actually don’t know how much radiation is in the scan. What an eye-opener. Good thing I discovered that BEFORE the scan.

I had a week to research these scans but I did it all just tonight, like cramming for an exam, which I did plenty of in school. But you’d think if it came to saving my life, I’d be a bit more diligent.

That’s the thing about living with cancer, post-treatment. You can think about it all the time and be super vigilant and time and schedule all your scans and tests like you’re planning a military campaign. Or you can pretend to have your life back and believe cancer’s in your past and just forget about follow-up tests. You can prepare for its return or assume it’s gone forever. It’s hard to tell what part of the fence to sit on.

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