There's been a lot of concern lately about the routine use of radiation-heavy scans to identify early signs of cancer. Could cancer detection actually give you cancer? One Food and Drug Administration researcher said yes... so the FDA fired him.
The FDA was considering whether to approve computerized tomography (CT) scans for routine colon cancer screenings last year. And Dr. Julian Nicholas said he and eight other researchers spoke out against approval on the grounds that otherwise healthy patients could be at risk for cancer from the scan's radiation. He and the other staffers were "pressured to change their scientific opinion," he testified at a hearing — and then the FDA decided to push forward over their objections.
A chest CT scan has as much radiation as 400 chest X-rays. And according to Nicholas, between 1.5 percent and 2 percent of cancers are caused by CT scans. But agency managers ridiculed Nicholas for "raising the bugaboo of radiation."
So Nicholas and the others went straight to the division's top director, Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, last September, with their concerns. A month later, Nicholas was fired. "Scientific and regulatory review process for medical devices was being distorted by managers who were not following the laws," he testified yesterday.
The danger of radiation exposure from cancer screenings is already a hot-button (so to speak) issue right now. In February, the FDA announced it was launching an effort to improve scanning safety, after three California hospitals revealed that hundreds of patients had received radiation overdoses. Many of these patients reported lost hair and reddened skin. The FDA is trying to appear proactive on the issue, so Nicholas' revelations obviously don't help much. CT scan photos by NASA/Getty Images. [Associated Press]