General radiation risks
Radiation risks can be increased in young children or young women, but the risks of radiation otherwise are pretty constant through adult life.
A person should always want to keep radiation exposure to a minimum. If you are exposed to small amounts of radiation over a long period of time, it raises your risk of cancer. It can also cause mutations in your genes, which you could pass on to the children you have after the exposure. A lot of radiation over a short period of time, such as from a radiation emergency can cause burns or radiation sickness.
Symptoms of radiation sickness include:
- Hair loss
- Skin burns
- Reduced organ function.
If the exposure is large enough, it can cause premature aging or even death. You may be able to take medicine to reduce the radioactive material in your body.
Gender and age risks
As far as gender risks go, female breasts are more sensitive to ionizing radiation than the male chest. While men can develop breast cancer, it is extremely rare. The risk for radiation-induced breast cancer in men is negligible. Females also have a higher risk of radiation-induced lung cancer, thyroid cancer and breast cancer.
With the age component, children grow quickly, and their cells are more sensitive to radiation. Since effects of radiation take years to develop, the youth of children extends the time for any potential effects from ionizing radiation to occur. But, the radiation doses required to obtain pictures of children are much lower than adult levels. Therefore, the risks associated with a diagnostic medical examination for a child need not be greater than those for an adult, and is often much less.
As adults age, radiation exposure becomes less of a concern. The body tissues of older patients are less sensitive to the effects of radiation.
Medical imaging effects on adults
Medical imaging is extremely useful at any age to help with the diagnosis and treatment of a number of diseases or conditions. For exposures in adulthood, however, the relative risks of radiation-induced cancer generally do not decrease monotonically with increasing age of adult exposure. For radiation exposure in middle aged people, most radiation-induced cancer risks do not, as often assumed, decrease with increasing age at exposure. This observation suggests that promotional processes in radiation carcinogenics become increasingly important as the age at exposure increases.
Radiation-induced cancer risks after exposure in middle age may be up to twice as high as previously estimated, which could have implications for occupational exposure and radiologic imaging. These observations are inconsistent with most standard models of radiation-induced cancer, which predict that relative risks decrease monotonically with increasing age at exposure at all ages.
Although age is not a prominent factor with risk, the unborn child of a pregnant woman is perhaps most sensitive to radiation. If you are pregnant, tell the medical staff before any imaging exam using ionizing radiation is conducted. Diagnostic imaging exams that expose pregnant women to ionizing radiation should be conducted only after establishing the need for the exam and with careful consideration of the fetus. A limited number of properly performed imaging exams do not represent any concern for developmental defects. However, the risk for long-term health effects, although small, is uncertain.
Overall, it is suggested to undergo radiologic examinations as minimally as possible. While risks are rare, they do increase as exposure increases.