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CT scans a risk for breast cancer: What women should know

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Women can lower their risk of breast cancer by avoiding unnecessary CT scans.

Findings from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) highlight one way women can lower their chances of breast cancer by avoiding unnecessary exposure to radiation that comes from medical imaging such as CT scans. As far as reducing exposure to environmental chemicals, there doesn't seem to be enough evidence to show home products or personal care products with toxins boosts risk of the disease.

Ask your doctor if CT is necessary

Rebecca Smith-Bindman, MD, a professor of radiology and biomedical imaging, epidemiology and biostatistics at University of San California, San Francisco (UCSF), who wrote the article in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine and who contributed to the IOM report said though CT scans have become important for diagnosis, women should understand the risks and benefits and ask their doctors how much radiation they’re getting from CT scans.

Other questions to ask are their doctors include “Is the scan necessary and is it necessary to do it now?”

Women should ask if there are alternative tests, recommend the authors and speak with their doctor about ensuring the test is done safely.

Another option is to forego CT scans altogether if it isn’t going to change the course of treatment. Seeing a specialist first is another suggestion.

The IOM explored possible links between breast cancer and environmental causes and concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest pesticides, BPA in plastic water bottles, beauty products or household chemicals contribute to breast cancer risk.

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The study, requested by Susan G. Komen for the cure, doesn’t rule out environmental causes of breast cancer and the IOM is suggesting more research. The impetus for the investigation was to find science based evidence about how women can cut their risk of developing the disease.

According to the report, “...2,800 future breast cancers would result from one year of medical radiation exposure among the entire U.S. female population, with two-thirds of those cases resulting from CT radiation exposures.”

The authors acknowledge the number of breast cancers that might result from exposure to imaging radiation is small, but nevertheless, can still be reduced.

Dr. Smith-Bindman says “The single thing that the IOM highlighted that a woman can do to lower her risk of breast cancer is to avoid unnecessary medical imaging.” It’s also important to limit alcohol intake and maintain a normal weight, found in past studies.

Based on the report, women should discuss options for diagnostic tests other than CT scans unless it’s absolutely necessary to lower their chances of breast cancer. More studies are needed to understand possible environmental contributors to the disease.

“Environmental Causes of Breast Cancer and Radiation from Medical Imaging/Findings from the Institute of Medicine Report”
Rebecca Smith-Bindman
Archives of Internal Medicine
June 11, 2012.

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