Cancer Alert for Travelers

Dear Health Conscious Reader,

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of speaking at the annual conference of the American College for Advancement of Medicine. They’d heard about my PACE program and invited me to speak. I have to admit, it was great to see so many forward-thinking physicians embracing the PACE concept.

The conference was held out in Las Vegas, which for me meant a direct flight from Miami. But when I hit Miami International Airport, I was in for a nasty surprise – body scanners.

Have you heard of our government’s plans? I went to the TSA website and found there are already 385 of these units at 68 airports across the country. And they have plans to install lots more…

They say these units are harmless… but I’m not convinced.

The people we trust to look out for us over at the TSA claim the dose of radiation from these machines is less than 10 microREM of emission, or about one-ten-thousandth of a chest X-ray. Experts believe it’s more likely 10 times higher than TSA estimates.1

Dr. David Brenner, head of Columbia University’s center for radiological research, said the dose absorbed by the skin may be up to 20 times higher than earlier estimates.2 And Peter Rez, a physics professor at Arizona State University in Tempe, did his own calculations and found the exposure to be about one-fiftieth to one-hundredth the amount of a standard chest X-ray.3

For those of us who travel a lot, that doesn’t sound too good to me for a couple of reasons.

First, an X-ray from a doctor is spread out over your whole body, but most of the energy produced by these machines is delivered directly to the skin and the underlying tissue. I worry the dose to the skin

could be dangerously high.

Another thing that’s got me really worried is they’re dosing gonads with radiation and not protecting them. Even when you take a chest X-ray they give you a lead shield to put over your groin area. Are you going to carry one of those with you to the airport?

They’re dosing a woman’s ovaries with radiation, and I’m worried about the effect on the unborn. And it’s even worse for men because a man doesn’t have his body to protect his gonads because they’re located externally.

Your head’s getting as rigorously scanned as the rest of the body with these machines … though it’s unlikely people would hide explosives in their ears or nose. In people over 50, this could be a very serious cancer risk. In older folks, basal cell carcinomas normally occur in the head and neck area. Plus, the effect on the eyes and cornea has not been established.

And some people are more sensitive to radiation than others. Dr. Brenner has specific concerns about passengers with gene mutations. That’s about 1 in 20 (or 5 percent) of the population. These people are more at risk as they are less able to repair X-ray damage to their DNA. This is especially worrisome when it comes to breast and ovarian cancer.

And here’s another thing to keep in mind. The effects of radiation are cumulative. Frequent flyers, airline pilots and flight attendants will be exposed regularly. And what about the TSA folks who operate the scanners? They’ll get many thousands of times the dose that travelers get just by standing next to the machines all day every day. That puts them at especially high risk for cancers.

The husband of my colleague Elizabeth Blackburn recently raised many of these points in a letter to President Obama. You may remember me mentioning Elizabeth before … we’ve worked together for years. And just last year she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for her work in telomeres.

Her husband, John Sedat, is a biophysicist with expertise in imaging. He and his team of experts are concerned because:

  • People who have HIV or cancer may be at higher risk due to the high doses of skin radiation.
  • Further research needs to be completed when it comes to pregnancy and the risk that may be imposed on the fetus.
  • Any glitch in power that stops the device could cause an intense radiation dose to a single spot on the skin.
  • The risk of radiation emission to children and adolescents hasn’t been fully evaluated.

The whole thing is offensive. You’re being herded like cattle, and it’s all done without asking. Shouldn’t it be your choice?

So here’s the bottom line. If you’re going to fly, here’s what to do.

1. Refuse to allow yourself to be scanned. You can still fly… but you may have to opt for the body search or seek out airports without the body-scanner machines. It may take some doing but you can plan a route that bypasses airports with the new scanners. This way you can map out your route and skip the scanners. That’s what I plan on doing as much as possible.

2. Take CoQ10. This nutrient interferes with radiation absorption, so a week to 10 days before you fly, start taking the ubiquinol form of CoQ10. It’s eight times more powerful than regular CoQ10. Normally, I recommend getting 50 mg daily but you can quadruple the dosage before you fly.

3. Load up on vitamin D. It’s the one nutrient proven to reduce the risk of all cancers by 77 percent.4 Spend 20 minutes in the sun and your body will produce thousands of units of vitamin D. If you can’t get out in the sun, I recommend 2,000 IU per day. If you’re going to fly, I recommend a double dose.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

1 “Statement on Airport Full-body Scanners and Radiation.” American College of Radiology. Retrieved Dec. 9, 2010.
2 “Airport body scanners ‘could give you cancer’, warns expert,” Daily Mail, Retrieved Dec. 8, 2010
3 Roach, John, “Are Airport X-ray Scanners Harmful,” Cosmic Log,, Nov. 16, 2010
4 Lappe, Joan M., et al, “Vitamin D and calcium supplementation reduces cancer risk,” Am. J. Clinical Nutrition June 2007;85,6:1586-1591

5 Guhaa, Manti, Basuraya, Shyamali, Sinhaa, A. Kumar, “Preventive effect of ripe banana …” Nutrition Research August 2003;23(8):1081-1088

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.