Airport body scanners may cause cancer: Scientist
London: At a time when airports around the
globe are planning to install full body scanners to maximise
security, the US Congress has been warned that the X-ray
imaging could increase the risk of skin cancer in air
The body scanners emit radiation up to 20 times more
powerful than previously thought and could be particularly
risky for children, said Dr David Brenner, head of Columbia
University`s centre for radiological research.
Although the "individual risks" associated with X-ray
backscatter scanners are probably extremely small, it could
multiply with the number of scanning, he said.
"If all 800 million people who use airports every year
were screened with X-rays then the very small individual risk
multiplied by the large number of screened people might imply
a potential public health or societal risk. The population
risk has the potential to be significant," Dr Brenner was
quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.
There should be more research on the device to look at
the way it affects specific groups who could be more sensitive
to radiation, he said.
According to him, children and passengers with gene
mutations -- around one in 20 of the population -- are more at
risk as they are less able to repair X-ray damage to their
DNA. The most likely risk from the airport scanners is a
common type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma, he
The cancer is usually curable and often occurs in the
head and neck of people aged between 50 and 70. Dr Brenner
pointed out that it would be difficult to hide a weapon on the
head or neck so proposes missing out that part of the body
from the scanning process.
"If there are increases in cancers as a result of
irradiation of children, they would most likely appear some
decades in the future. It would be prudent not to scan the
head and neck," he added.
Dr Brenner, who is originally from Liverpool but now
works at the New York university, recently aired his concerns
to the Congressional Biomedical Caucus in the US -- members of
Congress who meet to exchange ideas on medical research.
He urged them to look at his concerns but said it
was important to balance any health issues against
passengers` safety when flying.