The long-held belief that even low doses of radiation, such as those received during X-rays and CAT scans, increase cancer risk is based on faulty information, according to a new article.

By Hollee Actman Becker
June 12, 2017
child's X-ray
Credit: XiXinXing/Shutterstock

There's always that little twinge of fear that comes with the thought of your little one being exposed to radiation during diagnostic imaging like X-rays or CAT scans. But according to an article published in the June 2017 issue of The Journal of Nuclear Medicine, the long-held belief that low doses of radiation increase cancer risk is based on an inaccurate, 70-year-old hypothesis.

Back in 1946, Nobel Laureate Hermann Muller floated the theory that all radiation is harmful, regardless of how low the dose and dose rate. But according to article author Jeffry A. Siegel, Ph.D., Muller's claim—known as the "linear no-threshold hypothesis" (LNTH)—was unrecognized by the radiation science community. And yet his theory led to policies that proposed using lower and lower dosing for imaging, which in turn helped reinforce the widespread fear of radiation in both physicians and patients.

"This fear is unjustified by any scientific findings," Dr. Siegel writes. "And is discredited by most experimental and epidemiological studies, which show that low-dose radiation, instead, stimulates protective responses provided by eons of evolution, resulting in beneficial effects."

According to Dr. Siegel, nuclear medicine and CT radiation doses are low, and studies have shown "initial radiation-induced damage is generally repaired or eliminated in a matter of hours by the body's adaptive responses." Plus, older kids have a stronger immune system than adults, Dr. Siegel says, adding that low-dose radiation has been shown to stimulate the immune system to reduce cancer rates.

He points to the Japanese children who were younger than 6 at the time of the bombings at the end of World War II, who were exposed to large amounts of radiation and showed no significant difference in adult-onset cancers when compared with a control group.

"The obsession over lowering radiation dose is a futile and laborious attempt to minimize what is, in fact, a nonexistent risk," Dr. Siegel concludes. "Radiophobia is detrimental to patients and parents, induces stress, and leads to suboptimal image quality or avoidance of imaging, thus increasing misdiagnoses and consequent harm while offering no compensating benefits."

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her website for more, and then follow her on Instagram and Twitter.