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Gov. Schwarzenegger Signs Radiation Safety Bill into Law

New Safety Standards, Recent Advances in Imaging Technology Will Help Minimize Cancer Danger from X-rays

For Immediate Release: September 30, 2005
Contact: Marisa Walker, Breast Cancer Fund (415) 346-8223 x17

SAN FRANCISCO—California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 929 (Oropeza, D-Carson), the Radiation Safety bill, into law this afternoon.

This law will mandate quality assurance standards and testing for all radiation-emitting medical and dental equipment in the state, protecting patients from unnecessary radiation exposure. Exposure to radiation, including medical and dental X-rays and CT scans, is the best-established environmental cause of breast cancer.

“We've known since 1965 that radiation causes breast cancer,” said Jeanne Rizzo, R.N., executive director of the Breast Cancer Fund. “The passage of AB 929 means safer radiation diagnosis and treatment for Californians and is an important step toward preventing cancer. Ultimately, we need a new diagnostic tool for breast cancer that doesn’t expose us to radiation.”

The new standards are intended to ensure that patients get the lowest possible dose of radiation and to reduce the need for retakes. The bill is sponsored by the Breast Cancer Fund and the National Brain Tumor Foundation.

Scrutiny of this common medical tool’s link to cancer has coincided with new product developments in 2005 from X-ray equipment and film manufacturers that would require a lower burst of radiation to produce a usable diagnostic image.

Digital mammography technology, which typically exposes patients to a lower radiation dose than standard film but has yet to become widely available, got a boost Sept. 16 when the New England Journal of Medicine reported that the new technology is better at detecting cancers in women under 50 and in women with dense breasts. Advocates hope that results of this major study will convince healthcare providers to make digital mammograms more widely available.

In March, Eastman Kodak Co., a major manufacturer of X-ray film, began rolling out a higher-speed film that it says will offer a 50 percent or better drop in radiation dosage and reduce the need for retakes. It marks the first such innovation in 20 years.

“Since I have CT scans every three months to track my cancer growth, I am glad that steps are being taken to reduce my exposure to radiation,” said Sherry Miller, 51, of Reno, Nev., who started chemotherapy last week after a CT scan found metastatic tumors in her liver. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, Miller’s cancer has spread to her liver and the lining around her lungs. “Regular CT scans allow the oncologist to treat my cancer while I am still healthy otherwise, and it’s reassuring to know that the technology is getting safer.”

In January, the National Toxicology Program classified X-radiation as a known human carcinogen for the first time, stating that exposure to radiation during routine diagnostic procedures such as X-rays, mammography, CT scans and fluoroscopy can cause cancer. In June, the National Academy of Sciences agreed and stated that there is no safe dose of radiation.

Advocates say patients can also take several steps to reduce their exposure to radiation, such as asking and fully understanding whether a procedure is really necessary, keeping a record of every procedure’s radiation dose and insisting that as much of the body as possible is shielded from radiation during a scan.

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