Be wary of unsupported scientific studies

Published1/14/2008 12:08 AM

I'm an avid follower of new treatment options for those of us who live with cancer. I see some in various newspapers, hear some on the radio and receive others by way of Google Alerts or unsolicited public relations releases.

Among those in the latter category was a pronouncement that essentially warned of the dangers of scans, including bone scans and CT scans.


What they do, of course, is help doctors see what cannot be seen from outside the body.

The warning stated that the scans, because they use radiation, cause cancer. As I analyzed what I was reading, I realized it was devoid of significant scientific studies, sources of the "statistics" or published reports in major journals. It was an opinion (by an unrecognized doctor) couched in semi-scientific terms.

The first thing I did was send it to my cousin, Dan Kopans, M.D., in Boston. He is a professor of radiology at Harvard; has developed new imaging techniques and the machines and instruments that make them possible; published many studies; delivered dozens of papers; written books; and heads the department of breast imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital.

He popped right back with an analysis of the release I sent him.

"There are no data that anyone has ever developed a cancer from a CT scan," he wrote. "What is not mentioned is that these are extrapolated 'guesstimates.' They are based on high-dose exposures such as (experienced by) survivors at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"Rather than scaring people from potentially lifesaving CT scans, they should be arguing that it would be prudent for dose levels to be reduced as much as possible without sacrificing diagnostic image quality, and that physicians should think carefully before ordering a scan to be certain that it is the correct thing to do and the benefit will outweigh the very small (theoretical) risk."

Bottom line for those of us in the treatment and diagnostic trenches: Don't believe every piece of "news" you see and hear.

Too often, pieces are disseminated that have no real basis in fact. Question doctors and select them based on their credentials and whether they stay on top of new and proven information, so they can pass it along to their patients.

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