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Do airport security scanners cause cancer?

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Winging through the upper atmosphere from coast to coast exposes you to 4

Q. Is the radiation from those full-body airport scanners harmful? — C. Reilly, via email

A. “Assume the position: Put your hands on your head. Spread your legs. Say cheese!”

In seconds, the two types of scanners used at more than 100 U.S. airports zap a full-body, naked image of you and — discovering that you’re packing a hip replacement, not a bomb — send you to your flight. It’s far more pleasant than the crotch-checking pat-downs sometimes used when you set off the alarm and TSA agents can’t tell why. (Really, they’re just trying to keep us safe.)

But you’re not alone in worrying about cancer-causing radiation, especially since the European Union has now banned “backscatter” X-ray scanners, which account for about half of those in the U.S. Here’s what happens when you’re technologically undressed and assessed. We You Docs fly frequently, by the way, so this is personal.

Backscatter scanners — two big, boxy contraptions you stand between — run a thin X-ray over your body. In another room, someone checks the image. Once you’re cleared, the image is deleted forever.

How much radiation did you get? Not nearly as much as you will in flight. Winging through the upper atmosphere from coast to coast exposes you to 4,000 times more radiation than the scanner emits. And you’d need 40 backscatter scans to equal one dental X-ray.

Besides, millimeter-wave scanners, which use harmless radio waves, not X-rays, are spreading fast. They resemble rounded phone booths, produce better images and are designed to be more discrete. They’re in ever-more U.S. airports (78 as of last fall) and Europe.

While no one needs more radiation in our overzapped lives, we’re not worried about backscatter scanners. You’re twitchy about being super-viewed by anonymous screeners, however fleetingly? That’s different. If you’re worried about that kind of exposure, choose the pat-down or take the bus.


Q. All the fast-food places now have healthy entrees and salads. Or so they claim. How healthy are they, really? — Katie, via email

A. The idea of “healthy fast food” is probably more wished for than great sex and more mysterious than the contents of the McRib sandwich, with its 70-plus ingredients and not a rib in sight.

But with a little sleuthing, you can find good choices. In fact, McDonald’s now sells more apples and walnuts than anyone. Still, at Mickey D’s, like many places, you gotta sweat the small stuff. Like salad dressings. A Caesar salad with grilled chicken has a nifty 190 calories and 5 grams of fat. But add Creamy Caesar dressing and, boom, you’re at 380 calories and 23 g of fat.

Our advice: Do fast food only when there’s no healthier alternative. Even then, don’t go in. Pick a salad, use the drive through and keep repeating this: You deserve the rewards of good, nutritious food — a bigger brain, snazzier sex life, more energy than any 650-calorie, artery-clogging McFlurry.

The YOU Docs — Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen of Cleveland Clinic — are the authors of “YOU: Losing Weight.” To submit questions, go to www.RealAge.com.


Airport scanner radiation

– One dental X-ray equals 40 X-ray scans from standard “backscanners”

– Flying coast to coast equals 4,000 times more radiation than scanner

– New “millimeter-wave” scanners use harmless radio waves, not x-rays

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