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To Scan, or Not to Scan?

Last week Vincent shared his story about overcoming metastatic colon cancer using natural therapies.

The post generated a huge response. Many of you were inspired by Vincent’s journey and keen to know more about his recovery and diagnosis. One reader asked Vincent to explain how he knew he was cancer free, since he had not returned to a hospital since his diagnosis.

I thought it might interest you to hear Vincent’s answer:

‘I know that this may sound strange and maybe even delusional, but I just know.
Let me tell you why I took the decision not to go back and this is purely my opinion and I don’t want anyone to think I am advocating this to anyone else in the same position.We all have to decide what we feel comfortable doing and what path to take when facing a difficult situation..

I felt the stress of waiting for an appointment, which could be weeks or months, then waiting for the results which again could be weeks or months and finally hearing what the consultant has to say if it is not good, was not worth the trauma. More importantly, what would they offer me if things had got worse? Chemotherapy, Radiation or more surgery. How long can you keep cutting bits out and not actually addressing the root cause of the problem? The tumour is not the cancer, it is merely a symptom of the underlying cause, fix the underlying cause and the body will heal itself on it’s own.

I wanted to stay completely focused on what I was doing, and more damaging radiation from scans, biopsies that spread cancer seeds around and an increase in the levels of stress whilst waiting for test results, was not I felt, conducive to my recovery plan.’

Vincent’s explanation really resonated with Mum. She too has refused to have any follow up scans – PET scans, mammograms or CT scans – since her diagnosis ( she did agree to one CT scan at that time).

‘ I didn’t want to get locked into that cycle of fear,’ Mum said yesterday. ‘ And obviously I didn’t want the radiation either.’

One double CT scan delivers the same amount of radiation as 700 X-rays.

So what’s more terrifying? Having doubts about whether you are 100% cancer free or submitting to a procedure that significantly increases your risk of more cancer? One CT scan is thought to cause cancer in one out of every 270 people screened, but patients are rarely told of the risks.

Instead the radiologist might have a friendly chat with the patient before they flick the buttons… and scurry for safety.

Bada bing, bada boom.

One survey published in the American Journal of Roentgenology in 2009 found that some patients had up to 70 CT scans over eight years – equivalent to the radiation levels from 21 Hiroshima bombings.

What about PET scans?

The procedure uses a radio-tagged sugar molecule to ‘light-up’ up cancer anywhere in the body. This test delivers as much radiation as a head, chest, abdomen, pelvis and bone scan combined.

In Take Control of Your CancerDr. James Forsythe offers a word of caution for patients:

‘ After enumerating all of your symptoms, do not allow your doctor to over-test your body with excessive amounts of radiation including excessive CAT scans or PET scans, which can often make your condition worse by weakening your immune system.’

Dr. Leigh Erin Connealy also has reservations about ‘routine’ doses of radiation. Last week, as guest author on Renegade Health(Kevin Gianni’s fantastic blog) she had this to say on the subject:

‘Medical imaging… is now responsible for about half of our radiation dose, and the over-use of diagnostic tools like CT scans has devastating consequences. The 70 million CT scans performed in this country in 2007, for example, could result in the development of nearly 30,000 cases of cancer down the road, including leukemia, colon, and lung cancer.

Are all these scans necessary? I doubt it. The much-ballyhooed whole-body CT scans, for example, are actually worthless as a health screening tool, since no clear benefit has ever been proven.’

It’s worth noting that CT and PET scans are by no means definitive.

Mum was recently told that if a patient has wind it can obscure the results on a CT scanner. Moreover, a cancer metastasis must measure between 5 and 10 mm before it can be detected on a PET scan.

Know Yourself

Ultimately, each patient must weigh up the risks and benefits of diagnostic procedures – taking into consideration both the emotional and physical toll they might take.

According to Lothar Hirneise, independent cancer specialist and author of Chemotherapy Heals Cancer and the World is Flat cancer patients would do well to assess the anxiety and stress brought on by regular check ups. The following excerpt is taken from an interview with Hirneise for ODE magazine in 2003:

When people ask me which diagnostic tests they should and shouldn’t do I tell them:

‘Can you sleep without that diagnosis?’ If so, don’t do it. If you need the diagnosis to sleep better, then go ahead. Instead of a blood test, you’re better off looking in the mirror.

Look at your whole body, your skin, etc. That is a better diagnosis. Then meditate and listen to your body. Listen to what it wants to tell you. You will discover a great deal, gain a lot of insight. Afterwards you can always go to a doctor. Don’t just go to a doctor to have your blood tested or have an x-ray. I know this is a big sacrifice.

We think the doctor should know best, right? Wrong. Believe me, that’s not the way it works. The tumour is not your enemy. Stress is the true source and no one can handle the stress of too many tests.’

For Mum, the idea of anxiously waiting for results every three months was abhorrent beyond belief.

So what’s the alternative?

Thermography, MRI, ultrasound, elastography and blood marker tests are all non-radioactive ways of checking-up on what’s inside.

Since her diagnosis Mum has opted to have a bi-annual CA-125 blood test (a marker for ovarian cancer) and she keeps an eye on her general health through iridology and SCIO scans – a computer that picks up nutritional deficiencies and toxins, among other things.

When she felt a lump in her breast a few months ago, she booked in for a (nuke free) ultrasound. Thankfully it came back clear. But if it hadn’t?

‘Perhaps if I got some really bad news I’d take myself off to an alternative clinic,’ Mum said.  ‘But a bad result isn’t going to make me suddenly decide to stop doing vitamin C injections, ozone and coffee enemas and start having conventional treatment.’

Mum now takes time out to listen to her body and keep her stress levels under control; she also keeps herself active – with shaking, kayaking and dog walking – and makes time for joy in her life.

Last month she went on holiday with her boyfriend to America. She watched raunchy shows in Las Vegas, hiked the hills in Yosemite National Park and took in the beauty of Niagara Falls.

Yet when she mentioned the imminent trip to friends, nearly everyone asked – in hushed tones – whether she was going away ‘for treatment.’

Mum was pleased to be able to respond that the trip was purely about pleasure. It was a holiday she had planned, in minute detail, since her diagnosis.

And therein lies a very vital part of healing: anticipatory pleasure.


Photo by Showtime

Whether you choose to have regular check ups or not (and for some people it is the right choice) make sure you have something to look forward too – a massage, a weekend of back-to-back Borgias or a dip in the ocean – whatever the results.

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