As the travel season nears, I can't but wonder about the security lines at the airport I will be encountering. Will I get stuck in the line with the full body scanner or will I get away with the good old fashion metal detector? Whether it
be in the hospital or at the airport, I will be not too far away from a full-body scanner. This time, the tables will be turned: I won't be the one looking at the images. I will now be one being scanned and receiving the radiation dose.
Is there any harm or adverse effects to one as an individual? There is no evidence currently out there that indicates that these scanning technologies presents any significant effects biologically to an individual. The types of scanning systems make use of "millimeter wave technology" or "backscatter x-rays" which deliver extremely weak levels of radiation per scan. According to the American College of Radiology (ACR), for example, "backscatter technology" delivers radiation equivalent to "flying inside an aircraft for two minutes at 30,000 feet." Based on calculations from the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement (NCRP), the ACR states that "a traveler would require more than 1,000 scans in a year to reach the effective dose equal to one standard chest x-ray." Does this reassure me? Quite frankly, yes - this type of technology is very safe and low in radiation dose but nonetheless I do realize I am getting one more dose of radiation than necessary. Also if you may be wondering if this type of scan is just too much especially if you have had more than your fair share of radiation already in the form of prior radiation therapy or multiple prior x-rays or CT scans. Rest assured, a scan at the airport will expose you to a negligible dose and will not harm you.
Are there any long-term harm or public health concerns? Over time, the question remains -- we will be exposing large populations to these minimal dose of x-rays. Over time, as a population, the overall dose will add up. No one knows what the true long-term effect will be. More research needs to be performed in order to fully investigate the impact, if any, that this technology will have on large populations.
Are there any resources where I can learn more about radiation dose and x-rays? The ACR encourages those interested in learning more regarding radiation associated with imaging and radiation oncology procedures as well as radiation naturally occurring in the Earth's atmosphere to visit www.radiologyinfo.org.
Again, there is currenlty no evidence that the scanning technologies that the airports are using would present significant biological effects for passengers screened.
My advice and final thought. As a citizen of this country and of the world, I am just wondering will scanning everyone even make a dent in our fight against terrorism? I sure hope that the powers that be are working on more sustainable and better solutions to fight terrorism and prevent someone from even thinking about doing harm on our airlines, rather than try to catch a needle in a haystack using full-body scanning to detect individuals with weapons or explosive materials.
Finally, as a physician, I am not worried about the radiation dose from these airport scanners. Travel safe and enjoy the holidays with your loved ones!