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Jeff Miner Consulting

Cancer from X-rays

"If we can't depend on the medical experts to cure it,
we better learn how to prevent it."

Do routine medical x-rays cause cancer?

Cancer. The big "C". One in three of us will get it. The "cure rate" is usually expressed in terms of surviving for so many years. The common treatments of chemotherapy and radiation are dangerous and sometimes lethal themselves. We spend billions in treatment and research and yet prevention and cure are somehow beyond us.

What follows is a medical theory of why cancer is so prevalent today and a practical approach to cut the cancer and heart disease deaths in this country by one half, that's 300,000 fewer deaths a year. It will also provide you with the tools necessary to better your odds of avoiding cancer for yourself and your family. Remember, you don't have to be a medical expert to evaluate and act.

Read the 12/24/05 Sacramento Bee report on
Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza
's bill
to limit medical x-rays

AB 929 -- Radiation Exposure: This measure would require the Department of Health Services to establish quality assurance standards for all radiological equipment in California to ensure that the lowest possible dose of radiation is used without sacrificing imaging quality. This measure took effect 1/1/06.
Read more at California Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza's web page.

The following is an excerpt on Dr. John Gofman and his research at the Committee for Nuclear Responsibility (CNR).

Dr. John Gofman, MD, Ph.D.

John Gofman is a medical doctor with a Ph.D. degree in nuclear and physical chemistry. He is professor emeritus of molecular and cell biology at University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the faculty at University of California Medical School at San Francisco. During his long career, he has pursued two separate fields of research -- heart disease, and the health effects of low-level radiation. He has won several awards for original research into the causes of atherosclerosis, which is the growth of fatty "plaque" inside the blood vessels, often causing fatal heart attacks. In 1974, the American College of Cardiology selected him as one of the 25 leading researchers in cardiology of the past quarter-century. In the early 1960s, the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) asked Gofman to develop a Biomedical Research Division at the AEC's Livermore National Laboratory (LNL) to evaluate the health effects of all types of nuclear activities.

In 1970, he became convinced that radiation was more dangerous than previously believed, and he spoke out against Project Plowshare, the AEC's plan to explode hundreds of nuclear weapons to release gas trapped in rock beneath the Rocky Mountains and to excavate new harbors and canals by exploding nuclear bombs aboveground. (See REHW #691.) He also called for a 5-year moratorium on the AEC's plan to develop 1000 commercial nuclear power plants.

By 1974, his government funding was cut. He then began a series of books on the dangers of radiation: Radiation & Human Health (1981); X-rays -- Health Effects of Common Exams (1985); Radiation-Induced Cancer from Low-Dose Exposure: An Independent Analysis (1990); Preventing Breast Cancer: The Story of a Major, Proven, Preventable Cause of This Disease (1995; second edition, 1996); and Radiation from Medical Procedures in the Pathogenesis of Cancer and Ischemic Heart Disease: Dose-Response Studies with Physicians per 100,000 Population (1999).

Excerpted from The Major Cause of Cancer -- Part 3 by Peter Montague in RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #693 --- April 20, 2000 ---

Peter Montague's 3 part summary of Dr. Gofman's findings should be read and understood by anyone who gets medical x-rays. My short summary will hopefully intrigue you to learn more. I will personally donate the full 700 page text (Radiation from Medical Procedures in the Pathogenesis of Cancer and Ischemic Heart Disease: Dose-Response Studies with Physicians per 100,000 Population by John W. Gofman, M.D., Ph.D.) to any public or medical library that requests it, while my supplies last. Contact me at jeff@jeffminerconsulting.com.

The political climate after World War II allowed radiation, the danger of which was only slowly being understood, to be controlled by the same organizations that were charged with its peace-time promotion. In the interests of harnessing "the peaceful atom" human health concerns were often downplayed in favor of promoting cheap industrial uses for nuclear power. When x-rays were discovered in the late 1800's, as a "miracle" of modern medicine, the effects of cumulative radiation, gene mutations, and cancer were not well-known or well-publicized . The fact that cancer would often not appear for 20 years after exposure did not help to awaken public concern when x-ray machines showed up in shoe stores so customers could see how shoes fit (I remember playing with those machines as a kid), or when x-ray treatment was used to treat adolescent acne (I remember that heavy ozone smell as my teenage face - and thyroid - were bathed in x-rays). Peter Montague's The Major Cause of Cancer, Part 1 and 2 does a good job of examining the history of radiation in this country.

Dr. Gofman uses census data to correlate disease statistics, year by year, to the number of physicians per 100,000 population. Not surprisingly, as the density of doctors per 100,000 population increases there is a dramatic decrease in all diseases (except for cancer and heart disease, which dramatically increase). It was almost as though whatever doctors were using to cure other disease was actually causing cancer and heart disease. Gofman estimates that medical radiation caused 83% of female breast cancer in the U.S. in 1993. This is quite an outrageous claim and Gofman spends 700 pages of his latest book justifying his conclusions and proposing ways to correct the problem.

Peter Montague gives a pretty clear explanation of how Gofman reached his shocking conclusions in .The Major Cause of Cancer -- Part 3 in RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #693 -- April 20, 2000 -- :

In his latest (1999) book, Gofman presents strong evidence that medical radiation is a major cause of cancer and of atherosclerosis (coronary heart disease).[5] By "medical radiation" Dr. Gofman is referring mainly to x-rays, including fluoroscopy and CT ("cat") scans. The mechanism is simple to state: radiation causes genetic mutations, which eventually give rise to disease.

What is Gofman saying? Does he mean that medical radiation is necessarily the only cause of cancer and coronary heart disease? Certainly not. Does he mean that cancer is not caused by smoking, poor diet, genetic inheritance, pesticides, diesel exhaust, dioxin, and toxic chemicals encountered on the job? Certainly not. Cancer and heart disease both have multiple causes. For a cancer (or an atherosclerotic plaque) to develop, a cell must undergo several (probably 5 to 10) separate gene mutations. Some of these mutations might be inherited but most occur from exposure to gene-damaging substances in the environment.

Here is a way to understand multiple causation. Gofman gives the following hypothetical example of 100 cases of cancer:

40 cancers caused by co-action of x-rays + smoking + poor diet;

25 cancers caused by CO-action of x-rays + poor diet + inherited genetic mutations;

25 cancers caused by CO-action of x-rays + smoking + inherited genetic mutations;

10 cancers caused by CO-action of smoking + poor diet + inherited genetic mutations.

In the first case, the 40 cancers are caused by genetic mutations that are, in turn, caused by x-rays, smoking, and poor diet. Each of these three factors is necessary for the cancer to occur; if any one of the three factors is missing, the cancer will not occur (Italics mine).

We can see that, in this example, x-rays contribute to 40 + 25 + 25 = 90 cases out of 100. In this example, if x-rays were not present, 90% of the cancers would not occur. Now, in the same example, look at "poor diet." Poor diet contributes to 40 + 25 + 10 = 75 of the 100 cases. If poor diet were not present, 75% of the cancers in this example would not occur.

You can see that, in this example, we have x-rays "causing" 90% of the cancers -- "causing" in the sense that the cancers wouldn't occur in the absence of x-rays. But we also have poor diet "causing" 75% of the same cancers, meaning that 75% of the cancers wouldn't occur in the absence of poor diet.

Thus we can see that, when Gofman says x-rays are responsible for a large proportion of all cancers in the US, he is not saying that x-rays are the only cause of those cancers. However, he is saying that most of those cancers would not occur in the absence of x-rays.

It is important to point out that Gofman is not opposed to medical x-rays. Rather he is opposed to unnecessary exposures from x-rays. He has shown over the years -- and he is definitely not alone in this -- that medical x-ray exposures in the US could be cut by at least 50% with no loss of medical information (Italics mine). The careful use of modern x-ray equipment and techniques can reduce x-ray exposures by half (or more) without sacrificing any medical benefits. Thus at least half the cancers caused by medical x-rays are completely unnecessary.

How many unnecessary cancers are we talking about? Gofman calculates that in 1993, 50% of all cancers in women and 74% of all cancers in men were attributable to x-rays. In other words, about 60% of all cancers in the US in 1993 were attributable to x-rays. About 500,000 people die of cancer each year in the US If 60% of these deaths are attributable to x-rays and half are unnecessary, we are talking about 150,000 unnecessary cancer deaths each year in the US

Gofman calculates that the proportion of coronary heart disease (CHD) attributable to x-rays is slightly higher than the proportion of cancers. Among men in 1993, 63% of CHD deaths were attributable to x-rays and among women, 78%. So, in rough numbers, 70% of CHD deaths are attributable to x-rays, Gofman believes. Since CHD caused roughly 460,000 deaths in the US in 1993, if Gofman is right then 70% (or 322,000) of these deaths are attributable to x-rays and half of these, or 161,000 are unnecessary. Thus we can see that x-rays are responsible for about 150,000 + 161,000 = 311,000 unnecessary deaths each year in the US, if Gofman is right (Italics mine).

CNR's educational arm, The X-rays and Health Project (XaHP), has developed a series of documents giving patients the information necessary to protect themselves and challenge outmoded thinking in regards to the safety of medical x-rays. I would personally like to see these available on the reading table in all doctor's waiting rooms. Anyone want to help make this happen?

Also, see CNR's detailed proof linking radiation to cancer.

So what do you do when your doctor recommends that you or a family member get an x-ray? Doctors are "experts" and it's difficult to go against their assurance that there is nothing to worry about. The key is to be informed, minimize your exposure to radiation and help to educate others about the very real dangers of radiation from medical x-rays. My wife recently had a mammogram. I armed her with a folder of information from this and other web pages. The x-ray technician was knowledgeable and when she found out that my wife was concerned, interested and somewhat informed, she was willing to talk about how the Phillips Mammo Diagnost 3000 works. After the x-ray she developed the films and found last year's film as a comparison. The absorbed amount of radiation was recorded on both films. Last year's was 143. This year's was 86. What caused the decrease in radiation necessary for a clear film? Special attention given to a concerned patient? Better technician procedures? Better machine upgrades? Chance? I don't know. But I do know that a lot of variables play into how much x-rays we get and it is up to each of us individually and collectively to reduce it by as much as possible. Knowledge is King in the war against cancer.

Peter Montague concludes:

It will not be easy to convince physicians to take special care to minimize radiation to their patients. Familiarity breeds contempt and many physicians and dentists treat x-rays as if they are entirely harmless. Recently I broke a tooth. My dentist, who is first-rate, needed to document the injury for insurance purposes. "I'll just snap an x-ray," he said. I asked, "Is there some other way?" He nodded and immediately scribbled a note: "I broke my tooth and I don't want an X-ray." "Sign this," he said. "The insurance company is required to accept it." One unnecessary x-ray avoided.

Next time someone says they're going to give you an x-ray, don't put them on the spot but mention that you're curious what dose of radiation you will get. If your experience is anything like mine, the person giving the x-ray will not know the answer and you will be told, "Don't worry. It's completely safe."

But it's not.


1. Be informed. Read Peter Montague's excellent 3-part article on Dr. Gofman's work in RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY to better understand what I have only summarized here.

2. Avoid unnecessary x-rays. Don't be intimidated. Just say "Is it really necessary?"

3. Demand the absolute minimum dosage that will produce a clear image. XaHP: The X-ray Patient's Bill of Rights can help us inquire about equipment tests and technician training.

4. Now is the time to act.. As Dr. Gofman says:
"Better Late Than Never: If the two goals of the Policy Statement had been adopted 30 years ago, when it was first clear that x-rays are a cause of Cancer in adults, countless cases of misery would have been prevented. It is a moral imperative to do now what could have been done long ago. The Bay Area can lead the way, as a model for the rest of California and the nation."

5. Send this page to a friend (File / Send Page). Send comments and questions to Jeff Miner.

Other Links:




Read the 12/24/05 Sacramento Bee report on
Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza
's bill to limit medical x-rays

Obituary of John Gofman (September 21, 1918 - August 15, 2007)

Wikipedia on John Gofman