Cancer risk from airport scanners extremely low, study finds

My previous blogs on airport scanners (see list below) have been particularly popular among readers for obvious reasons. Now, Bloomberg News is reporting, “Airport body scanners pose little radiation risk to travelers, emitting less than 1 percent of the dose a person would get from cosmic rays while flying at high altitudes,” according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The American College of Radiology’s Safety Committee Chair Dr. Richard Morin “said radiation isn’t well understood. ‘The levels we’re talking about are lower than actual background radiation,'” said Morin, who wasn’t involved in the study.

According to the Boston Globe “Daily Dose” blog, the study “equated the small dose of radiation delivered by the scanner with other radiation doses from medical devices and our environment.”

For example, “every time you fly, you get some extra radiation due to your closer proximity to the sun. ‘The backscatter X-ray scans deliver radiation equivalent to around 1 to 3 minutes of flight time,'” wrote the study authors from the University of California.

Their research revealed that “50 airport scans equals the amount from a single dental X-ray, 1000 scans is equivalent to a chest X-ray, 4000 scans equals a mammogram, and 200,000 scans equals the amount in a single abdominal computed tomography scan.”

HealthDay reported that the study “looked at three groups: all fliers, frequent fliers (those who fly 60 or more hours a week) and 5-year-old girls who fly weekly. This last group was included because children are more sensitive to radiation.”

For frequent fliers, “four cancers might be linked to these scanners, but 600 cancers would result from flying at high altitudes, and 400,000 cancers would develop because of other factors,” the researchers noted.

MedPage Today  noted that the authors “estimated that two million girls flying once a week would have one excess breast cancer.”

In contrast, “250,000 of the girls will develop breast cancer over their lifetimes owing to the 12% lifetime risk of the disease.”

The CNN “The Chart” blog reported that the study authors “estimated that for every 100 million passengers who flew on seven one-way flights (just over three round trips) per year, six extra cancers were detected over the course of a lifetime.”

Meanwhile, according to Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), “486 advanced imaging technology machines are being used at 78 airports nationwide.”

The agency says the devices are “safe and meet national health and safety standards for all passengers, including children, pregnant women, and individuals with medical implants.”

Here are my other blogs on the topic:

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