Discovered in the late 19th century, radiation has changed the way we view our world on a fundamental level. Unfortunately, it often gets a bad rap. Though radiation can have dangerous, even devastating effects, it’s also a part of everyday life. Since its discovery, however, it’s also has become an invaluable tool, with implications in so many fields, from geology to medicine. Though we value a good sense of caution, we also like to keep things in perspective; so let’s debunk what exactly radiation is, and some of the most common myths surrounding it.
What Is Radiation?
According to the HPS, “radiation is energy that comes from a source and travels through space and may be able to penetrate various materials.” There are many different kinds of radiation, but for the purposes of this article, we’re interested in the types used in medical imaging.
X-rays and gamma rays, for example, are actually part of the electromagnetic light spectrum— just like visible light and UV light. X-ray machines, CT scanners, PET scanners, fluoroscopy, and mammograms produce their images due to radation’s unique ability to penetrate the surface of the body.
How Much Radiation Is Safe?
There are many misconceptions about radiation, but the worst is probably in assuming that any amount of radiation is extremely bad for you. In fact, you’re probably exposed to far more radiation than you realized throughout the course of a year. Radiation is a part of daily life, just as the visible part of the light spectrum is. Since radiation can be harmful in large doses, however, we should simply avoid unnecessary exposure.
It’s important to discuss the risks versus the benefits for any medication or procedure, regardless of whether or not it involves radiation. For radiation-producing imaging, the benefits often far outweigh the risks.
Will I Get Superpowers?
While it would be nice to become invisible after an x-ray, this won’t happen! You can certainly take advantage of the opportunity if the kids or grandkids ask, however.
Is Radiation Contagious?
This is a great question that many people ask; ionizing radiation is produced by materials within the imaging machine. As soon as the machine is shut off, the radiation exposure stops; this is why image technicians are able to do their jobs without getting sick.
Will I Lose My Hair?
Generally speaking, radiation therapies target a specific area of the body. You wouldn’t expect to see head hair loss after a leg x-ray, for example. Patients who have their heads subjected to radiation might lose some of their hair, but this is uncommon.
Will My Fertility Be Impacted?
As with hair loss, you would need to be directly subjected to radiation around the reproductive organs in order to be negatively impacted. Ultrasounds, used routinely during pregnancy, are completely harmless— they don’t use radiation at all.
Aren’t Radiation and Chemotherapy the Same Thing?
Very rarely do you hear of one without the other, but radiation and chemotherapy are actually very different. Radiation is just part of the electromagnetic spectrum, in and of itself. Usually, when the term radiation is used within the context of cancer treatment, we mean radiation therapy. Chemotherapy is a chemical-based treatment that gets injected or ingested into the body.
Radiation isn’t a new scientific concept, but we haven’t fully understood its impacts on the human body for very long. This has led to understandable confusion and concern within the general public. If you have any questions or concerns about using radiation for imaging or disease prevention and treatment, reach out to your general care practitioner or the imaging specialists here at Rosetta Radiology.