The Truth Behind Radiation Exposure and Cancer

You might not feel it. You might not even know it. But, as someone who lives on this planet, you’re being exposed to radiation all the time. Maybe even right this second. From cosmic rays and soil to radon and even your drinking water, radiation is a natural part of our world.

Despite this, many people attribute the cancer caused from radiation to man-made sources of radiation, such as medical imaging and nuclear energy. While there is not much excuse for nuclear weapons, medical radiation is a valuable tool for preventing and identifying conditions and even treating cancer.

How Does Radiation Exposure Happen?

The radiation you are exposed to every day just by being on earth is called background radiation. Background radiation is natural and, for most people, the largest source of radiation exposure during their lives.

Radiation is harmful to us because it is ionizing, which means whatever it passes through becomes chemically unstable and mutative. When it passes through a cell, it can either kill it or cause it to become cancerous over time.

Because the sun is essentially a giant nuclear reactor glowing at us from space, we get a good dosage of radiation from it each time we go outside. Ultraviolet rays pass through our atmosphere and are responsible for nasty sunburns and skin cancer.

Naturally-occurring radioactive elements can also be found in our soil and rocks, which can wind up being incorporated into building materials that make up living structures. Because these elements are in the soil, they can also end up in everything from the plants we eat to the water we drink.

From the breakdown of these elements in our soil comes a colorless, odorless gas known as radon. Levels of radon are strong inside structures and homes and especially in below-ground areas such as mines and basements.

There are, of course, also the consequences of nuclear weapons and nuclear plant meltdowns that have led to very high and deadly exposure to radiation in certain parts of the world. While unfortunate, there is not much that can be done except try to prevent them from happening in the future.

Medical Radiation and Cancer

A source of radiation we’ve all been exposed to willingly after breaking a bone can be found at the hospital. This would be the radiation found in X-rays and gamma rays used in imaging tests to get a visual depiction of what is happening in the body without surgery.

From CT scans to PET scans, low levels of radiation directed at the body have helped doctors diagnose and treat conditions since the early 1900s. Furthermore, imaging tests such as ultrasound and MRIs do not even expose patients to ionizing radiation.

As technology has improved in imaging equipment, the amount of radiation that must be used to get an accurate image has decreased. Depending on the person being exposed, radiation can be adjusted, or used only when absolutely necessary, such as with children.

By directing high-energy radiation at certain cancers, radiotherapy can be used to kill cancer cells. This method of treatment is, however, debatable, since the radiation can cause mutations in cells that survive it.

Medical radiation, like all radiation, can lead to an increased risk of cancer. Low levels of radiation exposure, however, have not proven to significantly increase this risk. You could think of an X-ray as the equivalent to tanning at the beach all day.

Need an X-ray Specialist?

If you have questions about any of your X-ray equipment, or need servicing, maintenance, installation, or de-installation of imaging equipment, All Star X-ray can help. We can provide the expertise and knowledge needed when it comes to anything X-ray. Contact us today or request a free quote on products and services.