I came across an article from 2011 by Natural News’ Mike Adams (a.k.a. “The Health Ranger”), entitled “Radiation exposure chart admits cancer radiotherapy delivers fatal dose to patients.”
The article is rife with false claims and factual errors, which I will attempt to address here. Why am I writing a rebuttal to a 7-year-old article? Natural News has a huge following, with over 2.9 million people subscribed to their Facebook page at the time of this writing. The article also appears in Google search results. Sadly, it is quite possible that cancer patients will come across this article and be utterly misinformed about what treatment options are most effective. This can have potentially deadly consequences for the patient if conventional treatments are delayed or forgone. Misinformation, in this case, can kill. Finally, as a radiation oncology physicist, I am in a unique position to educate people in order to set the record straight.
Fatal radiation dose?
In the article, Adams weaves a narrative that the cancer industry is bullying other organizations into censoring information about lethal radiation dose to humans. He claims that the radiation therapy industry uses doses that are much higher than the lethal dose in humans:
“Okay, so wait a minute. A dose of 10,000 is fatal, yet the cancer industry uses twice that dose to “treat” cancer? I knew cancer radiation treatments were barbaric, but I never knew they were twice the amount considered absolutely fatal.”
Adams reads a chart stating that 10,000 mSv (which stands for milliSieverts and is a measure of effective radiation dose) is a lethal dose in humans, and appears alarmed that radiation therapy delivers in excess of 20,000 mSv to humans:
“The next day, I went back to the InformationIsBeautiful.net website to make sure I really saw what I thought I saw. After all, if cancer radiotherapy is being given at 20,000 mSv, that’s a pretty big story, especially in light of the Fukushima fallout and the increasing radiation burden on populations everywhere.”
Adams continues on in a downward spiral of conspiracy theories, claiming that radiation therapy is a scam and just a big con by the cancer industry and “BigPharma” to make money with complete disregard for patients.
The Health Ranger makes a number of mistakes, the largest one being that the lethal dose he has quoted is for a whole body dose. A radiation dose to the whole body results in different outcomes compared to the same radiation dose delivered to a specific, targeted region of the body. Generally when radiation therapy is used to treat cancer, the cancer professionals go to great lengths to focus the radiation dose on the tumour, and in some cases they will also target other tissues where it is suspected the cancer might spread. Therefore, the doses quoted by Mike Adams are of little relevance to the type of targeted doses delivered with radiation therapy.
Another mistake made by Adams is the omission of dose fractionation. If you or a loved one have undergone radiation therapy, it’s likely that the treatment involved multiple visits to the hospital – in many cases, over the course of several weeks. This is because radiation therapy is not given in a single large dose, but rather it is administered in many, smaller doses or fractions. Reasons for this are based on the extensive research that has been done on the effect of radiation on cells – a field known as radiobiology. In short, allowing time between radiation treatments enables radiation to kill tumour cells while permitting healthy cells to repair and repopulate themselves. So a radiation dose delivered all at once will have a much different effect than the same dose delivered over multiple fractions. For this reason, Adams’ alarmist approach is just misinformed.
Radiation oncologists and researchers go to painstaking lengths to study the effects of different fractionation schedules with rigorous and carefully designed scientific studies – all in order to discover which treatments have the best chance of either curing patients or extending their lives.
Radiation Causes Cancer?
Toward the end of the article, the Health Ranger marches on by claiming that small doses of radiation actually cause cancer. He is actually correct in that delivering radiation to healthy tissues can increase a patient’s long-term risk of developing cancer. In radiation therapy, some healthy tissues must be irradiated in order to deliver a radiation dose to the tumour, so one potential side effect is that many years after the treatment, the patient could develop what is known as a secondary cancer.
So why do we deliver radiation for cancer? Because like any treatment, the benefits and risks of the treatment have to be weighed and considered. If radiation can destroy a tumour that is an imminent threat to the patient’s life, then that benefit outweighs the slight increase to the patient’s long-term cancer risk.
The internet is awash with alternative cancer treatments that claim to cure cancer with little to no side effects, but these treatments have no side effects because they are not effective. If they were effective, they would simply cease to be alternative and become the standard of care in conventional medicine.
There are other mistakes made by Adams in the article, but the ones listed above are the most egregious.
The bottom line is that radiation therapy is administered the way it is because there is a wealth of evidence to support its effectiveness for the treatment of cancer. If I was a cancer patient, I wouldn’t hesitate to accept the treatment plan recommended by my physicians.
It is tragic that the type of misinformation peddled by the likes of Mike Adams have, and will continue to have, devastating consequences for cancer patients and their families.