“A mammogram is not an atomic bomb” Experts warn about the risk of overprotecting your thyroid

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Thyroid cancer disproportionately affects women.

Thyroid disease can strike at any age, but it is most commonly diagnosed in women who are in their forties and fifties.

Radiation exposure is a proven risk factor for thyroid cancer.

According to Stephenson Cancer Center's Dr. Nilesh Vasan humans exposed to radioactive fallout are more likely to develop thyroid cancer.

Vasan says the two most common risk factors are family history and exposure to radiation.

Dr. Vasan specializes in thyroid disease.

Thyroid cancer is the fastest growing cancer in the U.S.

While the death rate is down., misinformation is on the rise.

"I have a lot of patients who come and see me they've done their research on google. They've asked 'Dr. Google' and we find there's a lot of nonsense out there," Dr. Vasan says. "It's important to look at legitimate science."

For example, some women are choosing to forego screening mammograms over concerns about thyroid health.

"A mammogram is not an atomic bomb," said OU Physicians' radiologist Dr. Elizabeth Jett. "We're nowhere near that level of radiation."

Similarly, some are skipping life-saving dental x-rays for the same reason.

Doctors and dentists have now started offering an alternative.: the thyroid guard.

Originally created to protect medical professionals, the thyroid shield is now in demand by patients who fear radiation exposure.

"We're surrounded by radiation, and for most of us the greatest exposure we have is the level of radon in our homes," Dr. Jett said. "So we worry about it and we hear a lot about it, but for mammography, the risk is actually very very very low."

Here's some real science to put your mind at ease.

Screening mammograms and dental X-rays are now digital imaging which contain far less radiation.

Also, these types of digital x-rays are targeted, which means very little scatter radiation.

"Digital X-rays have really made a difference in how much radiation a patient gets," said Masterpiece Smiles dentist Dr. Ashley Lanman.

In fact, one mammogram is the equivalent of thirty minutes of background radiation; the kind every human on earth is exposed to every day.

"Mammography has been studied extensively. We know the benefits of it. It's the best thing we have to catch that cancer early," said Integris Health radiologist Dr. David Burger.

While mammographers do make a thyroid shield available, most actually prefer patients not to use a thyroid shield because the guard can interfere with sensors on the equipment.

"If you do wear a thyroid shield you might actually cause yourself to get more radiation because the thyroid shield can come into the field," Dr. Burger said. "It can obscure and interfere with the detector which makes sure that you're only getting the amount of radiation you actually need."

It's also important to note patients should never agree to unnecessary radiation exposure.

If you're in your sixties you may remember a time when kids were treated with low dose radiation for acne, ringworm and enlarged tonsils.

Today, that is not the standard of care.

"The incidence or chances of you having any issue related to a plane x-ray, a mammogram or even dental x-rays is negligible," said Dr. Vasan.

In the end, experts say skipping dental x-rays and routine mammography will put you at greater risk for disease and death than any effort to avoid negligible scatter radiation.

It's important to note that many cases of thyroid cancer have no symptoms.

If you notice a lump in the front of the neck, swelling or pain in that same area, trouble swallowing or breathing, or changes to your voice, call your doctor.

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