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Full-Body Scanners: Do They Put You at Risk for Oral Cancer?

May 16, 2013

If you’ve traveled lately, you may have encountered a full-body scanner at the airport. It uses radiation to show remote officials a nude image of each passenger’s body to ensure no one is carrying anything that may cause a security risk.

Critics say the scanner is intrusive, invasion and unsafe. And researchers are concerned that scanners could lead to skin or oral cancer.

Some experts have argued that it would be rather difficult to hide a weapon or other appliance on a person’s head or neck, so the machine should only scan from the neck down.

Oral and pharyngeal cancer will cause more than 8,000 deaths this year, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation, so there is cause for concern. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has said the amount of radiation passengers are exposed to is negligible. But in response to critics, the TSA announced in January that it would be phasing out the full-body scanners by June.

The TSA began deploying the scanners in 2010, after an attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian citizen, to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight by setting off explosives hidden in his underwear. The TSA said that 174 of the machines are currently being used at airport checkpoints around the country. Another 76 are housed at a storage facility in Texas.

The removal of the current scanners does not mean that all full-body scanners will be removed from airport security checkpoints. There are alternative full-body scanners that do not produce revealing images. Instead, they rely on low-energy radio waves similar to those used in cell phones. The machines detect potential threats using a computer program and display a generic cartoon image of a person's body.

No studies have currently been released comparing the effectiveness of the two scanners. But if you’re concerned about oral cancer, learn more about the health risks.

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