The myths about radiation are almost as numerous as its beneficial uses according to Health News on Radiation.
Myth: Radiation is difficult to detect and measure.
Fact: Radiation is easily detected and precisely measured. There are a variety of sensitive instruments available: dosimeters measure dose; Geiger counters measure levels of radiation; and gamma cameras are for use in nuclear medicine studies. These devices can measure small amounts of radiation, even natural background radiation that is around us every day.
Myth: Radiation accumulates in the body.
Fact: When an individual is exposed to radiation, radiation’s energy is absorbed by the body. The energy may cause damage to cells or it may pass through the body and cause no damage. Cells typically repair damage that is caused by radiation, just as they repair themselves after other injuries. This damage, if it occurs, happens only once; it doesn’t accumulate.
As radioactive materials enter our bodies they are removed primarily through normal body functions. These materials also lose their radioactivity through radioactive decay.
Radioactive decay is measured by half-life, the time it takes for one-half of the radioactive atoms in a material to decay. Some radioactive elements have half-lives of thousands of years while others have half-lives of hours, minutes or fractions of a second.
Myth: Any radiation exposure will cause cancer because radiation is a very potent carcinogen.
Fact: The levels of duration of radiation exposure determine whether or not adverse health effects result. According to the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, radiation in sufficient dosage can cause many types of cancer, but only a very small fraction – about one percent – of the total cancer cases in the population are attributed to radiation exposure. These cancers are primarily from natural background radiation.
Low levels of radiation are not very effective at producing cancer. In fact, a single exposure of 10 millirems results in the same risk that a regular smoker takes by smoking one extra cigarette every 20 years or that an overweight person takes by gaining 0.006 ounces.
Myth: Pregnant women should refuse all medical examinations that involve radiation.
Fact: The effect of radiation on the embryo-fetus depends on the radiation dose and the age of the embryo-fetus at exposure. Just as we become less sensitive as we grow from children to adults, the embryo-fetus will also become less sensitive to radiation as it develops. Therefore, during pregnancy, the first 15 weeks of development are the most sensitive. For x-ray examinations during which the embryo-fetus receives a dose of less than 1,000 millirems, the national Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) states that “the probability of detectable effect(s) induced by such exposures is so small as to be outweighed by any significant medical benefit.”
The NCRP also states that the decision to proceed with abdominal radiography for pregnant women should reside with the pregnant woman and her attending physician, in consultation with a radiological expert, such as a radiologist or a health physicist.
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