Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Security Scans: Too Much Radiation?

Aside from the privacy issue, I'm alarmed by the proposed use of full body scanners in airports to look for devices hidden under clothing. Won't the scans subject us to needless radiation that can cause cancer and pose other health risks?

Answer (Published 3/19/2010)

It's true that cumulative exposure to radiation can lead to cancer - that's one of the reasons I oppose full body CT scans of healthy people to look for disease, and overuse of X-rays in medical and dental practices. But as I understand it, the full body scanners that have been tested at some U.S. airports to enhance security screening emit far less radiation than medical scans. I've read that a single security scanning gives an individual less than 10 microrems. You've got to compare that to other sources of radiation we are all exposed to in daily life. For example, simply traveling by air exposes all of us to about 300 microrems per hour of flight. And in the course of a normal day, the average person is exposed to about 1,000 microrems from all sources.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor for Your Whole Body - Foods, herbs and drugs can all interact, sometimes in unexpected ways. Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor takes known interactions into account when developing nutritional supplement recommendations, to help safeguard against adverse effects. Learn more, and get your free, personalized Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor recommendation today.

The 10 microrems said to be involved in a single full-body security screening scan probably won't add up to significant exposure unless you fly all the time (assuming that figure is correct - it comes from the manufacturer of the devices now in use). You also should bear in mind that the cumulative amount of radiation you would be exposed to from 30 hours of airplane travel at high altitude equals the amount generated by a single chest X-ray.

You can, of course, decline a full body scan if you happen to be traveling through one of the airports in the U.S. that uses the technology. However, if you do, you're likely to be patted down by security guards, an alternative that reportedly has not proved popular among travelers.

The privacy objections you mentioned in your question have gotten far more attention in news coverage of full body scans than the radiation concerns. Here, the notion that an image of your nude body could end up on the Internet seems to be fueling objections. The Transportation and Securities Administration (TSA) says that faces are blurred and that images are immediately deleted. In addition, one protocol proposed would have the images being viewed in another room, so that the airport personnel wouldn't be directly seeing the body of a passenger in front of them.The sad fact is that flying has become increasingly inconvenient and intrusive.

Most people grumble but put up with the indignities involved - taking off shoes, unpacking computers and marching through metal detectors - in hopes that these nuisances will protect their flights from terrorists. Clearly, the Nigerian who tried to bomb his flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on December 25, 2009 slipped through the net, illuminating flaws in the present system.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here