Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The Risks of X-Rays

Although they are safe, people are still concerned about radiation exposure during an x-ray.
Photograph: NHS.uk

When they were first discovered, going for an X-ray wasn't as safe as it is today. People are still worried about being exposed to dangerous amounts of radiation. But, everyday people are exposed to natural radiation without even knowing it. These natural radiation sources include:
  • radon - a gas found in low levels in the atmosphere 
  • cosmic rays - radiation that originates from space (sun and stars)
  • the earth - soil and rocks contain radioactive materials
  • food and water - e.g. red meat and potatoes contain tiny traces of radiation
But, people do have a reason to worry about x-rays, as being exposed to them does carry a risk of possibly triggering cancer later on in life. But this risk is exceedingly low. With most x-rays, there is a 1 in a 1,000,000 chance of causing cancer. More than 1 in 3 people in the UK develop some form of cancer during their lifetime, but this development depends on many different factors.

There are also precautions taken with x-rays when targeting the womb in women and the pelvis in both genders. This is just a precaution to ensure the x-rays do not affect the individual's fertility, as x-rays can affect the cells in the reproductive system. Not only that, but it is also to ensure that if the woman is unknowingly pregnant, the foetus is not harmed in any way. But x-rays that do directly target the womb are generally avoided unless they are clinically necessary. Instead, ultrasound is used.

Those who work with x-rays regularly (the most obvious people being Radiographers) therefore must thoroughly understand how x-rays work, how they work on, around and in the body. Radiographers are protected by a lead screen when carrying out the x-ray, as this screen absorbs the scattered x-ray beams. 

Although x-rays seem dangerous, even the most powerful of x-rays do not seem to have adverse affects and the dosages you receive are very small, given the background radiation you receive already!

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