34TAB THREE | UNDERSTANDING CANCER patient guide
Ionizing radiation can cause cell damage that leads to cancer. This kind of radiation comes from rays that enter the Earth’s
atmosphere from outer space, radioactive fallout, radon gas, x-rays and other sources. Radioactive fallout can come
from accidents at nuclear power plants or from the production, testing or use of atomic weapons. People exposed to
fallout may have an increased risk of cancer, especially leukemia and cancers of the thyroid, breast, lung and stomach.
Radon is a radioactive gas that you cannot see, smell or taste. It forms in soil and rocks. People who work in mines may
be exposed to radon. In some parts of the country, radon is found in houses. People exposed to radon are at increased
risk of lung cancer.
Medical procedures are a common source of radiation:
• Doctors use radiation (low-dose x-rays) to take pictures of the inside of the body. These
pictures help to diagnose broken bones and other problems.
• Doctors use radiation therapy (high-dose radiation from large machines or from
radioactive substances) to treat cancer. The risk of cancer from low-dose x-rays is
extremely small. The risk from radiation therapy is slightly higher. For both, the beneﬁt
nearly always outweighs the small risk
You should talk with your doctor if you are concerned that you may be at risk for cancer due to radiation. If you live in a
part of the country that has radon, you may wish to test your home for high levels of the gas. The home radon test is easy
to use and inexpensive. Most hardware stores sell the test kit.
You should talk with your doctor or dentist about the need for each x-ray and CT scan. You should also ask about shields
to protect parts of the body that are not in the picture.
Cancer patients may want to talk with their doctor about how radiation treatment could increase their risk of a second
cancer later on.
Certain Chemicals and Other Substances
People who have certain jobs (such as painters, construction workers and those in the chemical industry) have an
increased risk of cancer. Many studies have shown that exposure to asbestos, benzene, benzidine, cadmium, nickel or
vinyl chloride in the workplace can cause cancer.
Follow instructions and safety tips to avoid or reduce contact with harmful substances both at work and at home.
Although the risk is highest for workers with years of exposure, it makes sense to be careful at home when handling
pesticides, used engine oil, paint, solvents and other chemicals.