Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love to travel. Five years ago, I was lucky enough to take a trip through Russia and Ukraine looking at the different hydrotherapies they’ve used for centuries and still use to this day. While I have countless memories from that trip, some involving vodka and others involving mud and rain, one of the more memorable moments was passing through security to catch a flight from Moscow to Kiev. This was my first encounter with the “full body scan”.  As doctors, we were fascinated with the view it gave of the human body. It is a scan you don’t get to see in every day practice. One of my colleagues, however, was thoroughly mortified that we were peering at her skeletal structure.  We politely stopped looking, but spent the rest of the trip teasing her about her embarrassment, especially knowing all of the embarrassing and much more revealing things you do during medical school in the interest of learning.

Now, those same scans have arrived in the U.S. and everyone is questioning their safety, so I wanted to give you some basic facts and let you decide for yourself. This table summarizes the typical (not exact) amounts of radiation you may receive from different scans and even from flying.

Type of Scan____________________________Typical Dose (mSv)
Airport Screening Scan                                                           0.00025
Chest X-Ray                                                                                0.1
Mammogram                                                                                3
Chest CT                                                                                     5.8
Transcontinental Flight (at 30,000 feet)                                  20

So, you can see that the actual amount of radiation you receive from the scan is minimal compared to the amount you get from being in the plane or even from getting a simply Chest X-ray.

As with most things, we do have a choice and this information is simply to help you make an informed decision about your health.  To protect yourself from the radiation exposure incurred while flying you can choose to fly only at night. And you can load up on antioxidants before, during and after your flight to give your body help in fighting off the ill effects of the radiation.

Please know that I have purposely avoided the discussion of whether or not these scans are an invasion of privacy. That is an entirely different topic and something that I believe will be a personal decision for each of us.

In the meantime, enjoy your holiday season!