March 28th, 2011
06:47 PM ET

Cancer risk is low, but possible in airport scanners

If you’ve traveled through an airport lately, you’ve probably seen one of the new full body X-ray machines called a backscatter, a type of imaging technology used by the Transportation Security Administration  to identify concealed items.

A special article published Monday in the  Archives of Internal Medicine says “passengers should not fear.”  The device, which raised concerns among some because it uses small doses of ionizing radiation, a known carcinogen, poses “no significant threat” even to  frequent fliers, the authors say.

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco estimated the cancer risks associated with exposure to the backscatter and found that the scan, which takes only a few seconds, contributes less than 1% of the radiation dose a flier would receive from cosmic rays during the actual flight.

They also 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.  For every 1 million frequent fliers – defined in this study as those who took 10 trips per week for a year where each trip lasted at least six hours – four additional cancers were detected.

“A lot of people are fearful of radiation, and I think they need to be conscious that all radiation is not the same,” says study author Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman, a California radiologist. “I don't think the risk is worth us worrying about because it is so low.”

According to the 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.

Still there are some who are cautious. “I think one of the main issues with this paper is that it took doses direct from the manufacturers data, but in other recent publications doses were estimated based on the actual x-ray backscatter images that the machine produces and were higher,” says David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at the Columbia University Medical Center.

He published an article in April in the journal Radiology, and also found the radiation exposure to be small, but says even though the cancer risk is low, it is possible.  “The bottom line is that both my paper and this suggest that there will be some cancers produced in the long run from mass screening with X-rays,” he says. "The analogy I usually give is with someone buying a lottery ticket. Your individual chance of winning is extremely small, but we do know that some people will indeed win."

“There is considerable uncertainty about just how many cancers that will be.”

Passengers should keep in mind they don’t have to face the risk if they don’t want to. TSA press officer, Kristin Lee, notes that the technology is optional for all passengers, and that those who do not wish to go through the backscatter screening will receive an alternative screening, including a pat-down. Find out what experts do when they go to the airport later this week in the Empowered Patient column.

soundoff (117 Responses)
  1. Elizabeth Conley

    Common Sense Time
    Has this researcher been able to examine the TSA's backscatter Xray equipment and gather her own raw data?

    Has an independent team of experts gone over the equipment thoroughly, looking for design flaws that might lead to a malfunction?

    Has an independent agency been given the responsibility for checking these machines regularly, to assure they continue to work properly.

    I don't like being manipulated and talked down to. Until these common sense safety measures have been taken, I don't want to hear any more mindless drivel about how "safe" the equipment is.

    We aren't a nation of morons. We have enough common sense to know what needs to happen in order for the equipment to be deemed safe and reliable.

    March 28, 2011 at 19:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Frank

      Indeed... And everyone with those machine say the same thing: "It's just a small dose!" A small dose at the airport, a small dose while flying, a small dose at the dentist, a small dose at the doctor after a fall, a small dose from the sun, a small dose from the cell phone, a small dose from the Earth into your house, the atmosphere from the nuclear tests, on food... Hello!

      March 28, 2011 at 20:50 | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      Why don't you read the links in the article, its all in there

      March 28, 2011 at 22:47 | Report abuse |
    • IggyDad

      If you are truly interested in the authors' findings the full article is not difficult to read.
      The pdf is at archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/reprint/archinternmed.2011.105v1

      It is important to understand the relative magnitude of different health risks in our lives. Fear and biased preconceptions commonly distort our perspectives. This article is a useful antidote.

      March 28, 2011 at 23:34 | Report abuse |
    • harry mellon

      I call BS. This author is just repeating what the manufacturer said and that is unverifiable. In fact, they wouldn't let TSA workers know how much radiation these emit. And when its focused on a part of the body it takes much less than when its distributed over the whole like in airplanes. These machines specs are not allowed to be verified by independent scientists and they have already been shown to have lied,

      March 28, 2011 at 23:56 | Report abuse |
    • toddlc1

      I love these articles! What are they going to say? That we are in extreme danger every time we go to the airport? That would be bad for business!

      March 29, 2011 at 00:10 | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      so basically you are going to scan your junk with x-rays.. when doctors normally give you a lead sheet for them. huh.

      March 29, 2011 at 00:59 | Report abuse |
  2. Dave

    The article states that the devices are optional at airports but my experience has been quite the opposite. TSA officers were strict and coercive in sending me through the machine, suggesting that I had to. No one explained the device and I was rushed through without having time to read the signs. After going through the machine I was patted down anyway. The whole experience and the posture I had to assume was humiliating. Now I have to worry about cancer too? From now on I'll drive or take the train instead. Flying just isn't worth it anymore.

    March 28, 2011 at 19:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dave

      I'm not being a baby about it. I don't believe the things make us any safer than metal detectors and pat-downs and would hazard a guess that research will inevitably back me up on this one. The solution to making air travel safer is to attack the root causes of things like terrorism and providing mental care for those who need it. Sure, there will always be bad apples but we shouldn't go to the extremes like we do today. Over the past decade, America has lived in a culture of fear. Since Columbine and 9/11, we've believed sacrificing our rights and privacy and enduring "a little" radiation is worth it. I think this is a mistake.

      March 28, 2011 at 22:23 | Report abuse |
    • J

      Last time I flew, I noticed they tell you "right through there" without giving you the other option. I simply told her I'm not going into that and had to wait for 15mins barefooted to have an agent pat me down.

      March 29, 2011 at 00:09 | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      The last time I flew, I removed my shoes, my jacket, my keys and cell phone from my pockets. I was also told to remove my belt and hooded sweatshirt. I was then told to remove my wallet from my pants pocket and hold it above my head in the X-ray machine. It was absurd and degrading. If it's an X-ray machine, why is it necessary to remove everything? I've decided that I will do two things differently next time: 1) I will avoid flying unless absolutely necessary and 2) I will opt out of the X-ray machine if selected.

      March 29, 2011 at 01:01 | Report abuse |
  3. Ashley

    Don't compare radiation from cosmic rays to man made radiation. Just like you cannot compare a vitamin supplement to a fruit or vegetable, or natural organic crops to genetically modified ones, chemical fertilizers to organic waste or mulch. We just don't know enough about the universe or even our own planet for that matter to compare human stupidity with nature's intelligence.

    March 28, 2011 at 20:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. OrganicDevices

    " ...I think they need to be conscious that all radiation is not the same,”

    So how does it make sense to compare a dose of soft x-rays (which only interact with the epidermis) to cosmic ray exposure (which goes right through the body)?

    The problem is that the Sievert scale applies a constant Q to photon exposure no matter whether the photon in question is sunlight, UV, x-rays or gamma rays. This might indeed be safe, but it might be nonsense. Soft x-rays do not go through metal, so where is this much bigger flux that I am supposedly sitting in while at 30,000 feet in a metal can coming from? Who is studying the effects of exposure specifically to the 50 – 150 eV photons that the TSA want to spray at me? If no one then why?

    Anyone still going through these things should look up the ALARA principle, used by anyone trained in radiation procedures. If an ionizing radiation dose is avoidable, then avoid it!

    March 28, 2011 at 20:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • kat

      Thank you so much for pointing out these concerns. So many people will read this article without realizing that the study really doesn't address some very important flaws in the study.

      March 29, 2011 at 12:58 | Report abuse |
  5. Mary

    The risk is really low... unless you are one of the 4/million frequent fliers or 6/100 million other civilians paying the ultimate price. We don't need terrorists- now we kill our own.

    March 28, 2011 at 21:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. LiberalNN


    March 28, 2011 at 21:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. John N Florida

    ANY person who has undergone Radiation Therapy for anything needs to bypass those machines. Just like with 'handicapped' license plates or windshield hangers, those people must have a TSA recognized ID so they can bypass the units.
    It's not about giving the TSA Agents a hard time. It's about giving the citizen respect.

    March 28, 2011 at 22:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ituri

      What a surprise! The TSA doesn't care about respecting the citizens. Shock, that. Give a thug a fake badge and power over a group of people who have no right to say "no," and see what happens.

      They're going to keep shocking the guy behind the curtain, thats what. Doesn't take a genius.

      March 29, 2011 at 00:34 | Report abuse |
  8. Alec

    My favorite TIME Magazine issue - of all time - is the one that proclaimed cocaine was not addictive and the drug was perfectly safe to consume. It had a ton of experts backing up its claims. Decades later, everyone agrees the whole article was wrong. In other words... We don't know anything until time goes by and more data is collected.

    March 28, 2011 at 22:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • John N Florida

      Have you ever watched "Reefer Madness"? Now there's a crock of propaganda.

      March 28, 2011 at 23:30 | Report abuse |
  9. Chris

    Anyone who allows a pregnant woman or a kid to walk through these machines needs to get their heads examined.

    March 28, 2011 at 22:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • FirstResponder

      Yes and the same logic applies to females who are carrying any eggs that they intend to eventually allow to become fertilized.

      March 28, 2011 at 23:42 | Report abuse |
    • medstudent

      anyone who doesn't understand how to read through medical literature needs to hold back their opinion and analyze the data more thoroughly before making oversimplified and likely misinformed judgments

      March 29, 2011 at 11:36 | Report abuse |
  10. James

    It's official! Airport security is more dangerous than terrorism. I was "randomly" selected for extra screening while a Pakistani national walked through without question with his passport in hand. At some point, America is going to have to take a stand and stop this liberal foolishness.

    March 28, 2011 at 23:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • John N Florida

      Liberal has not a thing to do with it. You got $12.00 / hour employees with 8 WHOLE hours of training and a badge that gets REAL heavy REAL quick. I saw a you tube of one throwing a fit screaming "I have the POWER!"
      At least most cops do get a Psyche Evaluation before they hand 'em a badge.
      They ask TSA Agents "Are you dumb enough to work here?"
      Only the ones who shake their heads like 'Bobble Head Dolls' get accepted.
      That's the way G. W. set it up and it's gone straight down the crapper ever since.

      March 28, 2011 at 23:26 | Report abuse |
    • Erik

      The use of naked body scanners is *not* "liberal foolishness". This appalling assault on our civil liberties was begun by neo-conservatives such as Michael Chertoff.

      I suppose you mean that it is "liberal foolishness" that you (presumably a white guy) were searched while a "brown person" was not. Sigh... I guess you think that only "brown people" commit terrorist acts?

      March 29, 2011 at 01:44 | Report abuse |
    • JoJo

      And I'm going to assume Erik is a liberal, based on his vehement defending and race baiting. A liberal using the race card out of the blue with no provocation? Say it ain't so!

      April 4, 2011 at 13:18 | Report abuse |
  11. jimbo

    So they are saying there is a chance. How does it compare with the odds of winning the lottery?

    March 28, 2011 at 23:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • FirstResponder

      The version of the article that I can see in my browser includes the following paragraph:

      "They also 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. For every 1 million frequent fliers – defined in this study as those who took 10 trips per week for a year where each trip lasted at least six hours – four additional cancers were detected."

      March 28, 2011 at 23:39 | Report abuse |
  12. Keith

    Lies and more lies. The different types of radiation are not comparable. My son gave me an exposure tag to wear on my trip and it shows exposure in the backscatter X-ray and does not show exposure in flight, pretty simple technology. So, Government shill, Quite lying to the people.

    March 28, 2011 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • FirstResponder

      Please provide more details – what were your actual results from each of the two exposures? Which was greater, and by how much?

      March 28, 2011 at 23:40 | Report abuse |
  13. Ben

    Do people realize the radiation used on these machine are less powerful then radio and microwaves. SO every needs to stop listening to the radio and microwaving things and using tv remotes and using cell phones if they are worried about getting cancer from these

    March 28, 2011 at 23:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • FirstResponder

      Yeah, that's right – everybody knows that listening to the radio causes radiation exposure! (But only if you are listening while standing within an unsafe distance of the transmitting tower...)

      March 28, 2011 at 23:37 | Report abuse |
    • Doc

      Seriously? Educate yourself a little on radiation. There are MANY types. It is flat out incorrect to say microwaves & radio waves are the same as X-rays or scanner machine radiation.

      March 28, 2011 at 23:53 | Report abuse |
  14. FirstResponder

    MATH CHECK: 4 cancers in a million equals 1 cancer in 250,000. I would glady buy 250,000 lottery tickets for $1 each if my odds of winning were 1 in 250,000. No, I will NOT be subjecting myself to these odds in your so-called "safe" x-ray machine, thank you very much! But don't touch my junk, or I'll have you arrested....

    March 28, 2011 at 23:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • IggyDad

      MATCH CHECK CHECK: From the journal article: "These 4 excess cancers need to be considered in the context of the 600 cancers that could occur from the radiation received from the flying at high elevations, and in context of the 400 000 cancers that would occur in these 1 million individuals over the course of their lifetimes."
      Still worried?
      And remember, this is among a hypothetical very high "exposure" group of 1 million frequent fliers who take 10 trips per week for a year, where each trip lasts 6 hours in duration (ie, 60 hours of flying per week).

      March 28, 2011 at 23:45 | Report abuse |
  15. FirstResponder

    The people who will OBVIOUSLY be getting cancer from all this exposure are the goons whose job it is to stand right next to the machines all day long. My dad's dentist lost his thumb/hand/arm/life from holding his patients' x-ray films in place during the exposure. (He was afraid to have his thumb amputated when the cancer appeared, so he waited, and waited ..., and eventually lost his live due to his desire to keep his thumb.

    March 28, 2011 at 23:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rayne

      Was there a different procedure the dentist should have followed? (I really don't know–am asking.)

      March 29, 2011 at 06:21 | Report abuse |
    • ButMyJunkGetsLonely

      Yes – absolutely! He should have had each patient hold or bite down on the film, and should have walked out of the room to take the xray – the way it's done today. This event occured back in the 60's or 70's before the danger of xrays was understood.

      March 29, 2011 at 09:28 | Report abuse |
  16. John N Florida

    Anytime somebody tells you something is "Safe" based on their estimates, what they're really telling you is they don't know but, as a WAG, it should be okay.
    I remember when they, after 'exhaustive tests' claimed Thalidomide was safe. After a couple of thousand deformed children were born they said, "Oops. Maybe we were too quick on that one."
    There have been hundreds of examples since Thalidomide.
    The only constant is that you'll never get a bureaucrat to admit HIS /HER department could conceivably be doing ANYTHING wrong.

    March 28, 2011 at 23:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. sparknut

    I'd still like to see the head of TSA get scanned by every scanner in every airport. Only then will I believe it is safe.

    March 28, 2011 at 23:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ituri

      She's exempt. So is the entire "upper" class in our society.

      The first indication something is wrong is when something is only for one class of people, especially grouped financially.

      March 29, 2011 at 00:39 | Report abuse |
  18. Doc

    "Low risk" is not zero risk. And do these machines make flying safer? NO! Add to that the fact that idiots run these machines meaning you may be getting WAY more radiation that you are supposed to, and well, it's all fine & dandy until you are the one who gets the magic dose! Enjoy your cancer. I'll take my car.

    March 28, 2011 at 23:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Jon pall

    They could just check Arabic people until another ethnicity starts hijacking planes.

    March 28, 2011 at 23:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. mensaboy

    Anyone that thinks they are safe because of TSA is seriously deluded.

    March 29, 2011 at 00:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. radguy

    I am a health physicist and truly from a risk point of view, just about anything you do in life carries more risk than a backscatter scanner. These devices give a barley measurable dose of radiation. Consider 42 out of 100 people in the country will get some kind of cancer (NIH stat) and 22 will perish from it unrelated to radiation. There are no good facts in this article admitted but check the FDA website for facts on this and they are better. Its irresponsible to talk about cancer and these devices you have to know all the facts.

    March 29, 2011 at 00:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ituri

      You know whats really irresponsible? Forcing an entire population of INNOCENT people through questionable machines in the first place.

      We are not criminals. We are FLYING PUBLIC, and through Scotus and the Supreme Court rulings themselves, all common modes of travel are a RIGHT of the people and cannot be frivolously infringed upon under the duress of Free Association. Then there are the 4th amendment and privacy issues on top of that.

      March 29, 2011 at 00:42 | Report abuse |
    • medstudent

      Ituri no one is forcing you through anything. don't like the airport? don't fly. There is no law saying you have to fly anywhere.

      March 29, 2011 at 11:37 | Report abuse |
    • medstudent

      also common modes of travel are not a right. Driving is a privilege as ruled by SCOTUS, as is flying, so stop spreading false information

      March 29, 2011 at 11:38 | Report abuse |
    • Montyhp

      You hit the nail on the head. Let's break this down. 20% of all people will die of cancer. It is random chance. It is a natural consequence of the way our cells work. So 100 million people fly. 20 million will die of cancer. The backscatter scanners produce 6 additional cancers. So instead of 20 million cancers, we now have 20 million cancers. This is the only rational way to look at the numbers and the author of the study totally missed it.
      Montyhp (also a health physicist)

      March 29, 2011 at 12:59 | Report abuse |
  22. James S., Michigan

    Just one more reason I no longer fly ANYWHERE. Too much hassle and too much radiation from body scanners and too much invasion of my privacy and personal space. I wish ALL airlines would just fold and go out of business to send a strong message from the public. Enough is enough. It really could happen if EVERYBODY banned together and refused to fly for a year.

    March 29, 2011 at 00:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ButMyJunkGetsLonely

      But if I don't fly any more, how am I ever going to find someone to massage my junk for me?

      March 29, 2011 at 00:34 | Report abuse |
  23. Barry McD

    Classic propaganda. I also watched a TV bit that mentioned mercury was good for you. And I believe they cited new research and evidence as well. Wow, now I understand why people no longer trust the government or the mainstream media. It's a little sad to see sheeple making comments "read the article!". An article can be written by anyone, and made to sound convincing. Research data can be interpreted and misinterpreted by anyone. Scientists do it all the time. Lawyers do it all the time. Politicians do it all the time. Alot of money is riding on backscatter technology. They will hire the best spinners in the world to make their case it's safe. Do not trust the government or the mainstream news.

    March 29, 2011 at 00:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Elizabeth Conley

      You're absolutely right. These "researchers" should be ashamed to have their names attached to this parcel of misleading statements. They did NOT take any independent data. To date NO independent research team has been able to gather raw data on the actual performance of the Xray Backscatter machines used in the airports.

      It's a case of lies, damn lies and statistics, and those sacks of offal in the DHS are wasting their breath. We're Americans. We're bombarded with info-mercials, commercials and government lies 24-7. We stopped standing for nothing and falling for everything a long, long time ago.

      They'd better start telling the truth. We're going to find out anyway. Even if they've fouled up royally (again), they're only compounding their crime by continuing to tell these thinly disguised lies.

      March 29, 2011 at 07:48 | Report abuse |
  24. Peter E

    If you have been through any foreign airport security you may have noticed that their security personel don't care about your privacy. They will just pat you down without warning.
    As for these x-ray machines, they were nothing but a waste, and a clever way for Michael Chertoff to get multi-billion dollar contract for the x-ray machines from a company he has a stake in.

    March 29, 2011 at 00:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ituri

      I've flown through many foreign airports, and ALL of them cared more about the passengers privacy and person than the US TSA security did. Flying out of CHINA back to the USA, the USA required all bags be searched, and the officials were EMBARRASSED they had to rifle through my things. Kept apologizing for it while I watched too. Lets see you get a TSA thug to apologize for anything. They kneel and GRIN while feeling up your TESTICLES, and CHINA is apologizing to me for opening my carry on.

      March 29, 2011 at 00:45 | Report abuse |
  25. EM

    II think I'll take the pat-down. I could use a good touchy-feely session anyways.

    March 29, 2011 at 00:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. MIT Radiation Expert

    Americans must have faith in their government officials when they say that low levels of radiation is healthy...

    March 29, 2011 at 00:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • medstudent

      If you are worried about radiation why would you fly in the first place? afterall you're exposed to more atmospheric radiation in a 2 hour flight than you are in a scanner

      March 29, 2011 at 11:39 | Report abuse |
  27. Mike

    It's so easy to opt out. The pat down takes less than 5 minutes. Why gamble. In that regard, some scientists say high tension lines cause leukemia, some say no. Why gamble. Some doctors said cigarette smoking didn't cause cancer. They were wrong. Merck said Vioxx was safe. They were wrong. You can't avoid every risk in life, but when you have a safer alternative, why not take it. Why smoke for that matter? Or eat the black part of steaks. Those are known cancer causing agents. I'd rather be safe than sorry.

    March 29, 2011 at 01:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. SJB

    Oh yeah and eggs are really good for your cholesterol and anything that is FDA approved is safe!

    March 29, 2011 at 01:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. David

    For all those questioning your government–Answer this:

    Has there ever been a time when the government said something was safe and it was not?

    March 29, 2011 at 01:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • 1amWendy

      Ummm... YEAH. Like when the government told my father that his 53 full days of radiation exposure in the hottest spot in Hiroshima after WWII was safe.

      March 29, 2011 at 10:08 | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      So many times that it is impossible to count. And they helped corporations lie too at times.

      March 29, 2011 at 15:49 | Report abuse |
  30. Steve

    I have a qu

    March 29, 2011 at 01:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Steve

    I have a question.
    If pregnant women are not supposed to travel because of her sensitive eggs located deep inside her, how about men and their testicles which are just covered with a thin skin layer? That is, a guy's testicles have an extremely high cell division rate and are not protected as deep as a female's eggs. The high cell division rate are susceptible to reproductive anomalies (e.g. from ionizing radiation – mutations) that can manifest themselves in the form of birth defects or testicular cancer.
    I doubt any research was done on this. No one talks about it.
    Is there a flaw in my logic?

    March 29, 2011 at 01:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leo

      Your logic is sound.

      March 29, 2011 at 08:29 | Report abuse |
    • Tom Rankles

      AFAIK, men produce new sperm on an ongoing basis, while women are born with all the eggs they'll have for the rest of their lives.

      Get rid of the bad ones before you land, and you'll have a fresh batch by the time you check-in to your hotel. 😉

      March 29, 2011 at 09:44 | Report abuse |
  32. Erik

    Perhaps the radiation risk is low enough... how about the risk to our individual liberties, which are the underpinning of our nation? I think there is a "clear and present" danger to our country's continued existence should this security theatre be upheld.

    March 29, 2011 at 01:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Jeff

    Here is a quote from the article that you can read by following the link "University of California San Francisco" above:

    "Currently the TSA does not permit scientists to have access to the scanners to do independent testing."

    The UCSF researchers also said that they based their determination of safety of the scanners on "the available published specifications for the backscatter X-ray machines."

    If that doesn't scare the S**T out of you, and you continue to volunteer to go through these machines, then you are blissfully ignorant of reality. . . .

    March 29, 2011 at 02:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. chernoble

    To the mindless moron, David – i truly hope that was sarcasm! if not, please feel free 2 cite ANY example of when the gov't stated something was "safe" & it actually DID turn out 2 be safe! if you believe that, go ahead & drink your fluoride, injest your mercury, aluminum, gmo food, & soak up your "safe" radiation! jump on in & join the nwo's depopulation agenda! they'll be happy!

    March 29, 2011 at 02:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. SAM

    Oh yea sure it is,Just Like ALCOHOL IS GOOD FOR YOU TOO right ?

    March 29, 2011 at 03:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Pat

    The govt studies definitively prove that these devices are safe, and we all know the gov't has never misrepresented any facts in a "study"...

    March 29, 2011 at 03:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Rayne

    I am not concerned, because there are too many other things to worry about. I also agree they should do profiling that isn't random. I'd rather walk through the scanner than get a pat-down (which I would find more humiliating), but if pregnant, I'd request the pat-down.

    March 29, 2011 at 06:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. person

    Keep in mind that these, like all machines, can break. And since you can't "see" radiation, except for the burns it would cause on the skin in extreme doses, no one will know it's broken, possibly for awhile, if the machine is malfunctioning.

    Personally, if it is easy for me to avoid something that is carcinogenic, I will avoid it. I wouldn't walk an hour out of my way to avoid this scanner, but if it's just a matter of having the bravery to ask to opt out, of course I'll do it (and I have!). It doesn't cost extra money to avoid this scanner, like it does to buy hot dogs without nitrates, or organic vegetables. I ask for the pat down at the airport, more on principal than anything. I am offended they are asking me to go through these machines that are so new, that are not subject to the same rigorous standards/practices as medical devices. States have certain standards for ensuring medical devices are up to par, but these scanners are exempt because it's the TSA.

    On another note: if you gathered all the lottery winners in one room, it would make an impression on you. Someday you'll be able to gather all the people who "theoretically" died of these scans into a room too. This is what the government/media did with H1N1, "swine flu." They showed the extreme minority that were dying of the virus on the news constantly, than urged us all to get vaccinated. So if you got a swine flu vaccine for fear of dying, you should probably avoid these scanners too.

    March 29, 2011 at 06:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Dr Bill Toth

    The comparison to radiation received from flying is extremely misleading. There is a huge difference between your whole body receiving radiation while flying vs your skin receiving a concentrated dose while in the scanner. People should contine to read beyond the "whole article" as so many well meaning folks mentioned. Live with Intention, DrBillToth.com/blog

    March 29, 2011 at 07:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Jen

    One case of cancer is too much, one extra is unacceptable!

    March 29, 2011 at 07:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • IggyDad

      One extra cancer compared with what? Say this screening prevents one terrorist attack every ten years. Say that's 300 lives. Now you have some basis of comparison. You'd prevent a lot more cancer by encouraging people to teleconference rather than travel to work meetings. Before assessing any risk, you always have t ask "Compared to what?"

      March 29, 2011 at 08:36 | Report abuse |
  41. Leo

    As someone who works regularly with radiation in a medical research setting, and who understands how low and harmless the dose is, I agree – the cancer/health risk from these backscatter machines is negligible. That's not my issue with the scanners. My issue is that there are people who are NOT licensed medical personnel looking at pictures of me that are essentially nude photos. No, I'm not a prude. I actually wouldn't care if people wanted to cavort around naked. However, the point in this case is that people don't have a choice in being visually exposed in a public setting, and the folks looking at the pictures are not medical personnel.

    My issue, in short, is that this has gone beyond the thin veil of "security" and has become a flagrant violation of people's right to privacy and dignity.

    March 29, 2011 at 08:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • WhoKnewIt

      My biggest issue here is not that they are not medical personnel and looking at a naked picture of me.....my issue is that they are not medical personnel and they are operating a machine that should not be operated by someone that has not had extensive training. Your dealing with a machine that is tossing radiation through someone's body....and anyone that can pass a background check can operate it! No thanks.....when the government says "trust us" I run as fast as I can in the other direction.

      March 29, 2011 at 10:59 | Report abuse |
  42. mcm

    Has it not occurred to ANYONE in the TSA that if even a very, very small number of people get cancer and die from this radiation, it would be more than the amount of people that die in plane-related terrorist attacks? Also, has it not occurred to them that we're letting the terrorists get exactly what they want – us changing the way we live our lives due to fear?

    March 29, 2011 at 10:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. WhoKnewIt

    Janet Napolitano tells us that these machines are "safe".......she also said the border is "secure".....want to take a chance?

    March 29, 2011 at 10:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. becca

    That is a lottery I don't want to win. “There is considerable uncertainty about just how many cancers that will be.” Why take the chance even if they think the risk is small? Soft tissue and radiation do not make a good mix.

    March 29, 2011 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. medstudent

    If people were actually worried about radiation they shouldn't fly in the first place

    you are exposed to atmospheric radiation in the duration of your flight.

    They also shouldn't use microwaves – uh oh radiation

    or go outside in the sun because you guessed it – radiation

    radiation is everywhere. The levels of radiation in these scanners are far, far less than what you'd see in even the weakest of medical scans (such as MRIs which use virtually no ionizing radiation).

    People hear "radiation" and panic because for the most part the general public only knows one thing – radiation = cancer. They don't understand that there is a large spectrum of radiation, and how much radiation you are exposed to by things such as a cell phone, or what the relative risk data even means.

    People freaked out when microwaves were first introduced, laws quickly were proposed to force people to add several feet of wall behind any microwave being used and it was even questioned if they should be allowed to be sold to the public. When the country calms down from the typical mass hysteria that ensues from every media related scare then people could look rationally at this.

    March 29, 2011 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • RT

      Juat so you know there is no ionizing radiation in an MRI scan.

      March 29, 2011 at 11:55 | Report abuse |
  46. Claud

    The issue isn't whether negligible amounts of radiation pose a risk. The issue is that there is no accountability for the machines. Are they being properly caibrated? Even in hospital settings technicians make fatal erros with regards to the radiation levels patients are exposed to. Are TSA agents trained in how to monitor and calibrate these machines? THAT is the question the government has repeatedly refused to answer, despite the repeated mantra that the devices themselves are safe.

    March 29, 2011 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Sebastian Lohrn

    Cancer is a disease that can take different forms. Mostly is through genetics according to indicate studies and referred to in Findrxonline that there are treatments that should be supervised by specialists.

    March 29, 2011 at 13:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. no cancer to get on a plane, please

    "Low" is not good enough, regardless if it's true.

    March 29, 2011 at 13:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Austin Mc


    1,000,000 / 6 = 166,667

    people who get cancer from the scanners..... 1 out of every 166,667 people scanned

    5+Mega Ball – Grand Prize – 1 in 175,711,536

    175,711,536 / 166,667 = 1054 people will get cancer for every 1 mega ball winner... please write your Senators and Representatives to stop this

    (Prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and sets out requirements for search warrants based on probable cause)

    March 29, 2011 at 14:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Mat

    The article reveals who conducted the study but conveniently, no mention of who funded the study was made. I am willing to bet it was a TSA grant or some politically motivated channel. Effectively, you are getting a chest x-ray whenever you go through these machines. At least, when you get a chest x-ray, they give you lead shields for other sensitive areas so you don't get dosed with radiation. The article also conveniently leaves out the potential damage to reproductive systems and DNA. Radiation is known to damage DNA.

    March 29, 2011 at 14:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • fact-checker

      FALSE. These detectors give 0.005 mrem dose where a BOS>LAX flight gives you around 3 mrem by FLYING. You want to sue the sun next for exposinig you? Check this link: http://www.hps.org/publicinformation/ate/q8440.html. Really stop spreading lies on this thing all of you and educate yourself.

      March 30, 2011 at 00:10 | Report abuse |
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