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Is X-Ray Radiation Safe for Humans? What X-Rays can do in your body?

Prashant Garg

The first person who described x-rays is Wilhelm Röntgen as how they could help image bones in a medical setting, just a few weeks after the discovery. Hanover-based Eddie McCarthy was the first who got x-ray imaging when he fell on the Connecticut River while skating in 1896, and his left wrist was fractured.

We all are exposed to a little bit of radiation in our day-to-day lives. Soil, air, vegetation, and rocks have some number of radioactive elements. Cosmic radiation is everywhere on earth, which consists of x-rays. Though these rays are not risk-free, the radiation levels are so low that their effects are entirely negligible. Instead of ordinary people, astronauts, cabin crew, and pilots are highly vulnerable to x-ray radiation as they remain at high altitude, and cosmic rays are all around them.

Here are some quick facts about x-rays

  • X-rays are natural radiation
  • X-rays have a lot of benefits to humanity that can outweigh their downsides.
  • Humans are highly exposed to x-rays on CT scans instead of other imaging procedures.
  • Gases appear dark, and bones appear white in x-rays as they are full of calcium

Are Full-Body Scanners in airports harmful?

Airports use two types of scanners – backscatter x-ray and millimeter-wave full-body scanners. Millimeter-wave scanners don’t produce any ionizing radiation as they use radio frequencies. It is ionizing radiation which consists of energy and various elements that can cause mutation in DNA and cancer. It can even cause burns if the skin is exposed to a very high amount of radiation.

On the other side, the backscatter x-ray scanner uses a meagre number of x-rays for ionizing radiation. Airport scanners have only <1% of radiation exposure to a passenger than they usually get at high altitude during a long flight due to space radioactivity.

Types of X-Ray Tests Used for Treatment Purposes

The problem area of the body or the full body is exposed to an x-ray detector, and minimal x-ray pulses are released to capture a usual x-ray image. Lungs have gases trapped within. Hence, they appear as dark patches as they don’t absorb x-rays. On the other side, bones appear white because of the high atomic number in calcium. Here are the most common types of x-ray imaging tests used for treatment purposes –

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CT Scan – Computerized Tomography or CT scanner has a ring-shaped scanner where a patient lies flat on a table. An x-ray beam goes through the patient on several detectors. A 3D image is built up as the patient moves into the machine eventually. In this process, the highest x-ray radiation level is used as it captures many images at once.

Radiography – It is the most popular type of imaging and is used to capture the image of broken teeth, bones, and chest. A minimal amount of x-ray radiation is used in this procedure.

Fluoroscopy – A trained radiographer or radiologist can perform this procedure. They must monitor the patient’s movement and take x-ray images. It is recommended to keep track of the gut. It also uses higher radiation than usual but in minimal amounts.

Are x-rays risky?

X-rays might cause DNA mutations and then cancer over time. Hence, the World Health Organization has classified x-rays as a carcinogen. X-ray technology has a lot of benefits that can easily outweigh the minimal adverse effects. In a study, x-rays were found to increase cancer risk by only around 0.6% to 1.8% by 75. Different procedures have different risks associated with the part of the body to be scanned and the type of x-ray being used.

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