Wednesday, November 7, 2007


I had a PET/CT Scan today, the fourth one in two years. The radiographer told me each PET scan exposes you to radiation levels equivalent to ten X-rays. But the nurse showed me a brochure saying the PET radiation exposure is 3 mSv (millisieverts). That’s equivalent to about 150 chest X-Rays. So the radiographer was completely wrong.

I’m worried about my radiation exposure with all these tests. I know the risks of NOT doing these tests far outweigh the risks of radiation exposure, but I’m worried that doctors, radiographers and nurses have no idea what levels of radiation exposure they and their patients are subjected to.

When I asked my oncologist earlier this year how much radiation exposure was in a bone scan, she said “less than one chest X-ray”. Actually, it’s 200 X-rays.

I read about a study showing that less than 5% of doctors could accurately say how much radiation exposure was in a bone scan. So 95% of these doctors were recommending a diagnostic test based on false assumptions about how much radiation exposure was involved.

I read another study showing that healthcare workers in the U.K. who worked in mobile PET scan units had higher levels of radiation in their bodies than those who worked in hospital PET scan units. Why? Because those in the mobile units walked patients to bathrooms located a few meters away from the PET machines. Just walking next to their patients exposed these nurses to radiation.

I realize there are risks involved with radiation for both patients and healthcare workers. I know these risks have to be taken, and I’m thankful that doctors and nurses continue to work in this field despite the dangers. But I’m concerned that even the doctors and radiographers have no idea how much radiation is involved in these tests. And I worry that they’re not providing accurate information to their patients.

This is my biggest struggle with cancer treatment – having to fight for accurate information. Maybe I should worry about bigger things, like dying and facing the Great Unknown. But I like to worry about things I can get my hands on and my brain around. And facts are something solid that I can work with.

I’ll add this to my list of recommendations to the Health Ministry and the private hospitals, when I get a meeting with them someday.

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