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When you think of radiation, what comes to mind? Most people think of nuclear bombs or cancer treatments, both of which emit high doses of radiation. Did you know radiation is always around us in many forms? Some are more dangerous than others.

While one dose of radiation may not prove to cause any serious health problems, most researchers will agree that each dose of radiation will have some effect on our body; for example, damaging cells. Each exposure to radiation will gradually build up and the risk of cancer will increase with each exposure, although one source exposure to radiation will very unlikely cause cancer. There are ways to limit unnecessary radiation exposure. It is also important to note that exposure to radiation during childhood and puberty have more health risks than exposure to radiation as an adult.

It is impossible to avoid all exposure to radiation, but you can try to limit your radiation exposure. Here’s how to limit your exposure to radiation as much as possible.

Opting for an ultrasound or MRI instead of x-rays

X-rays are used for diagnostic tests such as mammograms, CT scans, and simple x-rays. X-rays use ionizing radiation which could cause damage to a body’s cells and DNA and can lead to cancer; however, when administered properly, these tests have not shown a significant increase in the risk of cancer. It may seem confusing to think that the tests used to help improve the quality and length of a patient’s life may also produce serious risks such as cancer. Usually the benefit will outweigh the risks, but it is important to be aware of the risks. Doctors should not be performing these tests on anyone they don’t think could really benefit from them, or they are just giving patients unnecessary radiation exposure. Additionally, not all of these tests use radiation linked to cancer. MRIs, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and ultrasounds use a non-ionizing radiation not linked to an increased risk of health problems or cancer, thus, a safer alternative to other diagnostic x-ray tests.

Simple x-rays use very low doses of radiation and there are no known increased risks for cancer. The dosage of radiation used in simple x-rays will vary, but most simple x-ray scans will use lower doses of radiation than mammograms or CT scans.

Women who are pregnant should avoid x-ray exposure, especially up to 20 weeks into the pregnancy. Radiation exposure to the womb may cause mental or growth retardation, leukemia, and other cancers. If a pregnant woman must be x-rayed, a single dose will not harm the fetus as long as a protective apron is used to cover the abdomen. High-dose, multiple-dose, and x-rays in the pelvic region should be avoided during the pregnancy.

Fetuses of pregnant women, children, and young adults should be cautious when getting x-rays because radiation exposure is more sensitive, and their young age means a longer time for cancer to develop in the body.

Backscatter scans in airports

Backscatter and millimeter scanners have begun replacing metal detectors in airports. These scans are used to find weapons or explosives underneath the flyer’s clothing. Backscatter scans look like two large blue boxes, and when the flyer enters the scanner, he or she will raise his or her arms and stand sideways while scanned. Backscatter scanners use ionizing radiation and is known to potentially increase the risk of cancer. The scanners send radiation toward the body at a much lower energy than x-rays, but does not pass through the body since the radiation is not as strong as x-ray radiation. The FDA has stated that the radiation emitted from backscatter scans are within the legal limits, and still okay for frequent fliers.

Microwaves, Cell Phones, and Other

Microwaves emit non-ionizing radiation, and the concern is not on the use of microwaves, but the long-term exposure from other sources. Cell phones emit very low doses of microwave radiation and are assumed to be safe. Long-term exposure could potentially increase the danger of radiation exposure and cause damage to DNA, cancer, or other health problems. Tobacco also contains a small dose of radiation, only about 3% of our yearly radiation dose.

It is important to only get CT scans and mammograms when they are absolutely necessary to limit yourself from unnecessary radiation exposure. Women should be getting mammograms every two years, beginning at age 50. Be cautious when doing x-rays on fetuses, children, young adults, and pregnant women. Protect yourself as much as possible from radiation exposure.