American Cancer Society Responds!

ACS reports dental x-rays linked to brain tumors

Yesterday I penned a missive to the American Cancer Society about their report linking dental x-rays to brain tumors.  You can see that letter by clicking here.

Tonight, I got a reply:

Dear Doctor,

Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns with the American Cancer Society about the recent study published in the April 10th issue in our journal Cancer.   I’m sorry to learn that we are losing your longtime support. Please know that it is never the intent of the Society to offend or upset our constituents and supporters.  We truly appreciate your passion to help in the fight against cancer.  It’s clear how personally you have been touched by the disease.  You make some good points and your concerns are certainly understandable.   I have forwarded your feedback to our staff who handle these considerations and will contact you as soon as possible if we have any additional information or comments to share on this study. 

Please note that Otis W. Brawley, M.D., the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society said regarding this study, “We need more data before we can even begin to state there is a relationship between dental x-rays and these tumors. Until that research is done, the best advice we can give people is to get dental x-rays when they are necessary and only when they are necessary. The dose of radiation given in a bitewing or panoramic x-ray is lower today than it was two decades ago. Nonetheless, x-rays should be done only when necessary. This is true of all x-ray technology, and it’s the same advice experts would have given without this study.”

I can provide the following link to the article posting his comments on our website:

Study Examines Possible Link Between Dental X-rays and Meningioma Risk

Thank you again for your past support of the American Cancer Society and help in the fight against cancer!

Online Cancer Information Specialist


Naturally, I had to answer this email right away!  😀  Here it is!

Hello Ken,

Thanks for your quick reply.  I just want to address two sentences from Dr. Brawley’s comments <<in brackets below>>

<<“We need more data before we can even begin to state there is a relationship between dental x-rays and these tumors.>>

That’s NOT how the study has been represented in the mass media.  Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s medical correspondent, said, (and I quote) “Frankly, you only get tooth x-rays IF YOU THINK YOU NEED THEM.”  Exact quote!  This prominent TV physician could not have made a more stupid and dangerous proclamation (not to mention syntactically unpolished and  awkward) for which she is NOT qualified.  When something so blatantly wrong is offered as “sound advice,” I dispense with diplomacy.  Dr. Snyderman was RECKLESSLY STUPID when she said that.   And, not surprisingly… dental patients are taking HER advice (based on YOUR report), and we dentists are dealing with the fallout.

Medical doctors have no more business giving dental advice than I do giving medical advice.  What she said is akin to, “Frankly don’t get your blood pressure taken, and don’t take any meds, unless YOU think you need them.”  That’s CRAZY advice, to put it bluntly.

The public interprets that as, “don’t listen to your dentist, and refuse x-rays unless YOU think they are needed.”  And, that’s exactly how they act in our practices.  It ties us up, time-wise.  It results in debates that are unwinnable.  No amount of logic or fact will sway a patient who’s CERTAIN the talking heads on TV know more than the dentist in whom they’ve presumably placed their trust.  This is very frustrating to practicing dentists.

Unfortunately, the way this “study” has been presented in the news has caused extensive problems (already in just 2 days) for dentists all over the country.  Online dental boards are buzzing with dentists reporting patients absolutely refusing NECESSARY diagnostic x-rays.  This puts us in a very difficult situation.  We have two choices:  Either acquiesce to the irrational patient demands (based on a dubious report) and risk our licenses and malpractice suits.  OR… we have to dismiss the patient, who will no doubt find a dentist who IS willing to compromise his / her professional obligations.

<< Nonetheless, x-rays should be done only when necessary. This is true of all x-ray technology, and it’s the same advice experts would have given without this study.”>>

Well, no kidding???  Really?  This bit of drivel implies that dentists routinely order Unnecessary x-rays.  And, once again, the public reads it exactly in that manner.  Dentists categorically have always followed this guideline.  So, once again, the stated conclusions and widespread media interpretation of this “study” belie what you are saying in this email.  The report has accomplished exactly the opposite of the Hippocratic Oath, which is to do no harm.  You have done immense harm to the doctor-patient relationship in the dental profession.

Sensationally unscientific…. Laughably so…. Drivel is what it is.  I stand by my decision to no longer support the American Cancer Society.  Every year I’ve supported it via a team of walkers for the “Making Strides against breast cancer” here in Florida.  This team sets a goal every year, and just before the deadline, they’re usually several hundred dollars short.  I make up the difference so they can make their goal.  Next time, I will have to explain to them that I cannot, in good conscience, support the cause.  I just can’t.

You have lost all credibility in my eyes.  And, you can be sure the same is true in the dental profession at large.  I am very active on multiple online dental forums.  There are thousands of dentists panning your “study” and ruing the release of this abjectly unscientific “study” based on anecdotal interviews with a bias to pursue an unimaginable agenda.

I could just as easily fashion a study to demonstrate meningiomas being caused by fluorescent lighting… by asking all those patients, “Did you spend a lot of time under fluorescent lights as a child?”  You did?  Oh, well then… THAT’S what must have caused the tumors.  Brilliant!  Not.  Correlation (especially one based on anecdote) does not equal causation.

Thanks for your reply.  It only confirms that your organization is reckless and completely ignorant on what constitutes real science.  This “study” would have been laughed out of a junior high science fair.  You had no business publishing it and representing it to the public as any basis for dental advice.


Stay tuned!  🙂

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7 Responses to American Cancer Society Responds!

  1. Ritu says:


    As dentists, we have committed a grievous error. Apparently all the scans and x-rays taken by physicians all over the country in their practices and hospitals, many of them “unnecessary” (cya?) with a ton more radiation have no links to any harmful side effects. THOSE are the types of x-rays we should be using, because they’re magic.

    Face palm.

    I’ve had enough. I’m switching to my superman-like x-ray vision. Should’ve done this a long time ago. I suggest you do too.

  2. Adam says:

    Amen! Mass media loves sensational broadcasting and doesn’t have to personally deal with the insanity that follows for the next decade. Even if they issue a complete retraction there will be a mess to deal with; look at the terror Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism instigated. That will probably never go away completely.

  3. Kamran Mehr says:

    Its sad, that select groups/organizations tend to release many half-ass reports which create confusion and hysteria. Most health care providers have more common sense and respect for all fields of medicine. However, the media strives on hype and mis-information. Shows like Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, The Doctors, etc… usually are misinformed. However, they are mainly focused on ratings.

    If conventional X-Rays increase risk of tumors guess what our superman-like x-ray vision will do. Be careful using it b/c they may sue for that brain tumor thing in their head.

  4. Mike,

    Great response and right on. When I first heard about the report, I was expecting it to be backed up by solid research that backed their conclusions about dental x-rays. After reading through the entire published article, I realized that the research was memory-based and not scientific. My first thought was…”WTF?” My second thought was, “dental x-rays are probably the least type of radiation that the public needs to worry about!”

    So, what is the real reason behind this being released? What is the “hidden agenda” that is not being stated to the public and/or the dental profession? For a supposedly reputable organization like the American Cancer Society to publish this type of research and then write that response letter to you basically saying, “Sorry”, is crazy!

    It’s a shame because I, like you, have been a strong supporter of the ACS in the past and have supported their “Relay for Life” events for several years. I’m very torn about supporting an organization that has recklessly attacked my profession and has potentially harmed thousands of people worldwide with this “research.”

    Thanks for your great articles, comments & letters!

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Thanks, Mike!

      Yeah… in other threads this has been brought up. I’m not usually a subscriber to conspiracies. But, this report is SO WAY OFF and utterly without a drop of science, it does make you wonder what is afoot. This “study” truly would not have passed the application stage of a junior high science fair. It wouldn’t have even gotten in! So, there MUST be some ulterior motive for publishing it.

      While I used to think nefarious conspiracies were all far-fetched delusions, I have to wonder if this is part of a plan to dumb-down American health care in preparation for a socialized system that wants to reduce costs through a reduction in diagnoses and related treatments.

  5. Chris says:

    It’s a giant chairside suction sound..Dental health into the 24 hr news cycle. Evidently oral cancer awareness month was not enough, cheap headline grabbing tactics that don’t appear to be helping the cause certainly win out over responsible objective reporting.

    If reporters (certainly not journalists) have no integrity, at least their editors don’t either.

    Positive side effect = increased conversation between dentist & patient. Don’t roll your eyes! ;-))

    It’s an opportunity to educate; people (maybe not collectively..but the individual) are smarter than that – we’ll read tomorrow how red wine, coffee, milk, and even sex can be so bad for us.


  6. Adam says:

    Perhaps the ACS’s next “study” should examine how getting your health care information from Dr. Oz or the Internet can seriously hurt you. There’s bound to be plenty of interesting anecdotes showing how bad their poorly researched advice can be. There should seriously be lawsuits against organizations like this for people who refuse valid medical care due to this sort of thing and are seriously harmed as a result. Until they’re held accountable for the damage they cause it will never stop. There had to be an agenda for this “study” for them to even get funding for this. Otherwise, why would they design it to single out just one type of radiation? Did you notice they didn’t ask the question, “How much time a day do you spend watching Dr. Oz or staring at Web MD on a computer monitor?”

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