Radiation risks

Posted on 8th Oct 2017

To supplement my earlier post about radiation misconception I want to write about the possible dangers of radiation. In doing so I hope to reassure anyone who is uneasy regarding any type of exposure, or at least help. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Let’s start out by breaking this up in ionizing radiation and (non-ionising) radiation (see earlier post about misconceptions).

Non-ionising radiation

As mentioned earlier in Radiation misconceptions there are possible risks regaring non-ionising radiation. This is however highly dependent on the amount of radiation used. A microwave for instance uses a lot of power. A cell phone uses a lot less and does not provide the same risk as a microwave.

There is some research around which shows possible effect from cell phone radiation. But there is also a lot of information around which actually provides a counterbalance. As there is no 100% agreement between research we cannot conclusively say there is no danger. We can however say that if there is a danger it is VERY hard to find. In short; you should not be worrying about this. There are a lot of things which are proven to be dangerous like alcohol, smoking, driving, obesity the list goes on.

Ionising radiation

In contrast to non-ionising radiation there is no doubt about the possible dangers of ionising radiation. Keep in mind that the dose is still very important!

Low dose

The effective radiation dose is expressed in the unit Sievert (Sv). We assume that there is a 5% chance of developing a life threatening tumour per Sievert. This sounds very dramatic, however we should keep in mind the doses used in medical imaging range around millisievert levels (1/1000 Sv, roughly 0,005 % risk). Again this does seem serious, the risk is still very minimal. Especially in view of the lifesaving effect medical imaging has.

I will modify the dose converter to show the risk involved with different exposures.

High dose

In contrast to low dose the radiation effect corresponding with higher doses often show up sooner. One which is often mentioned is (temporary) baldness from radiation exposure. The dose involved is roughly 7 Gy, a dose which under normal conditions is only reaches during radiation therapy.

A follow-up post will show some different effects and the corresponding dose.

Pregnancy

I have been contacted by pregnant friends or acquaintances about a exposure they received. Even though the reason of exposure vary they all share two things in common. They are worried and the dose received (by the foetus) is so small you should not worry. All research shows that the risks involved for the foetus in medical imaging outside of the primary beam is negligible.

However if you have choice in the matter (e.a. the situation is not life threatening) I would advise you to go with your gut-feeling. I don’t want to talk anyone out of having children but there is a chance that your unborn child will have a defect. As mentioned the chance of this being a result of a medical exposure is mostly negligible. However, if you have any guilt regarding the choice you made might haunt you.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments:).