Women who possess the BRCA gene, the mutations of which are linked to so-called hereditary breast and ovarian cancers, may be particularly susceptible to the deleterious effects of ionizing radiation, suggests a fresh analysis of earlier research on the subject. According to the fresh data, women with BRCA who are exposed to diagnostic scans that emit ionizing radiation -- this includes naked body scanners at the airport -- have a significantly heightened risk of developing cancer.
Dr. Flora E. van Leeuwen, Ph.D., from the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NCI) in Amsterdam and her colleagues evaluated a series of data on cancer rates with respect to diagnostic scans like mammograms that blast women's chests with ionizing radiation, and found that any diagnostic use of radiation before age 30 increases breast cancer risk by 90 percent among carriers of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.
Published online in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the research also revealed that any history of mammography prior to age 30 increases cancer risk by about 43 percent. And if all women who are BRCA carriers underwent even just one mammogram before age 30, the overall number who end up developing breast cancer by age 40 would jump from nine to 14 out of every 100.
"The results support the use of non-ionizing radiation imaging techniques (such as MRI) for surveillance in young women with BRCA1/2 mutations," wrote the authors in their conclusion, affirming what earlier studies have found linking mammograms, CT scans, and other radiation-based diagnostic scans to cancer.
TSA naked body scanners are a serious cancer threat to BRCA gene carriers
What the study also suggests is that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA)'s naked body scanners are also a serious cancer threat, particularly among young women with the BRCA gene. The TSA's backscatter version of its naked body scanner blasts a narrow beam of high-intensity radiation at travelers' bodies, which is "absorbed almost entirely by the skin and tissue directly under the skin," according to WeWontFly.com.
Since young children are routinely sent through such machines as part of the TSA's digital strip search procedure, this is highly alarming, particularly for young women with the BRCA gene. Since no credible safety testing has ever been conducted on the TSA's backscatter machines, including any legitimate measure of how much radiation is actually absorbed by travelers that pass through them, there is no way to know the cumulative effects of exposure.
We do know; however, that the type of radiation emitted by backscatter naked body scanners is the same type emitted during mammography and CT scans, and potentially even in the same or higher doses. For this reason, naked body scanners are very likely just as risky for women with the BRCA gene as are diagnostic scans, which means they should be avoided at all costs.