X-Rays: Benefits and Risks for the Human Body


What is X-Ray? It is a type of electromagnetic radiation discovered by Wilhelm Rontgen in 1895 (Miller 1). Since its discovery more than a century ago, technology has become an important application in medical imaging. It is used in the identification of killer diseases like cancer around the world and scientists believe that it has a core role to play in medicine even as other advances are made in the field. How was the technology developed? How healthy is it on the human body? This paper explores the history, benefits, and risks of X-Rays on the human body together with ways of mitigating some of the risky factors associated with them. To achieve this objective, authentic and up-to-date sources have been considered and an evaluation segment for the same included.

History of X-Rays

Challenges in medical diagnosis are believed to have necessitated the rapid invention, development and adoption of X-Rays in medicine. Before its discovery, the diagnosis was primitive as medical practitioners used crude methods like figure touch. This was later substituted with the use of a stethoscope which relied on sound. In the same manner, it was found to be ineffective, leaving doctors with the option of applying mental imagination in identifying internal defects in the human body. Due to these difficulties in the diagnosis and correction of medical problems, a vast number of patients lost their lives. President James Garfield died in 1881 after a bullet lodged in his body following an attack (Miller 1). This was mainly due to the lack of technology to locate the bullet in the body of the dying president. Besides this, photographic technology took center stage with scientists making a myriad of advances in the field. However, it was never envisaged that these were to be precursors of X-Ray.

Sir William Crookes’ discovery of the Crookes’ tube in the late 1800s is also considered as an antecedent to the X-Ray. From this tube, two scientists, Philipp Lenard and Heinrich Hertz modified it into a cathode ray and later customized it giving experimental results that proved the existence of X-Rays (Nobel Media, Close and Carlson 1). These were later developed by Professor Wilhelm Conrad through the refinement of Lenard’s experiment months later.

Innovations from 1960

By the year 1960, Dr. Sven Ivar Seldinger made further improvements by avoiding surgery during the insertion of a catheter. Successful transluminal angioplasty by Drs. Charles Dotter and Melvin Judkins between 1960 and 1969 was to facilitate the unblocking of vessels which were bunged with plaque (Nobel Media, Close and Carlson 1). Computer Tomography (CT) was developed in the early 70s. This involved computer technology where body slices were to be placed on a computer screen and images viewed in three dimensions. During this time, Thrombolysis was introduced by Dr. Charles Dotter which found a massive application (Miller 1). It was closely followed by the development of balloon angioplasty by Dr. Andreas Gruntvig from Switzerland. This played a pivotal role in the opening of tiny and delicate arteries during the insertion of a catheter.

Current body imaging technology

Today, doctors use MR-Magnetic Resonance which encompasses the use of a strong magnet and a magnet. MR technology has been arguably been seen to be most effective since imaging of both hard and soft body tissues is possible. Pulsed fluoroscopy has also been adopted to minimize exposure of patients to strong radiations. It makes use of shorter but high-intensity beans of X-Rays to avoid burns. Positron Incorporation of Emission Tomography in radiography has further allowed monitoring of cells and identifying possible regions with cancer infection (Miller 1). Recent X-Ray innovations allow printing and sending of scanned images from one place to the other. X-Ray, therefore, remains one of the major progressive medical discoveries in history.

X-Ray Benefits

Together with nuclear techniques, the use of X-Rays has had a significant impact on many spheres of human life. These fields include medicine, energy, industry, and agriculture. Of immense benefit is in medicine where diagnosis processes of some killer diseases have tremendously been revolutionized (Radiology.org 1). Consequently, doctors can identify a medical complication with a lot of ease and prescribe medical ways of controlling the problem. A good example is cancer treatment where the technology has found a colossal application (IAEA 1). It is believed that more than seventy-five percent of patients who get hospitalized in industrialized countries benefit from this technology. Many lives have been saved and it can be argued that the life of President James Garfield would have been saved if X-Ray technology was in existence. Besides treatment of cancer and other abnormalities, X-Rays are useful in monitoring therapy in hospitals. This is essential in guiding and planning for patients’ dosage and drug administration (Miller 1).

X-Ray risks

While X-Ray technology has found enormous application in medicine and other fields, concerns have been raised over risk factors associated with it. Researchers have been involved in understanding some of the common and fatal concerns associated with this innovation which transformed diagnostic procedures in medicine. Firstly, the use of X-Rays is regarded as a predisposing factor of DNA mutation which may lead to a number of unhealthy conditions. DNA mutation may cause the death of important cells, uncontrollable cell division, cell dormancy, and formation of cancerous tumors (Nobel Media, Close and Carlson 1).

Additionally, X-Rays are harmful to pregnant women and highly discouraged. The main reason behind this is the possibility of radiations causing deformities to the unborn child (Nobel Media, Close and Carlson 1). This is because of the hypersensitivity nature of fetus towards any form of radiation. In the event that blood cells are destroyed or affected by X-Rays, patients get exposed to anemia which may cause death. Similarly, destruction or interference with white cells affects the normal functioning of the immune system, causing the body to be more susceptible to infections (Wagner 1).

Moreover, an alteration of reproductive cells as a result of exposure to X-Rays would affect the normal cell formation resulting in permanent and dangerous sterility. Exposure to X-Rays is likely to affect bone marrow which may consequently damage hair follicles and the skin. This is usually manifested through body rashes, loss of hair and reddening of the skin (Wagner 1).

Comparison between MRI and X-Ray

There are various similarities and differences between MRI and X-Ray based on their risks and benefits as applied in medicine. In terms of cost, MRI is the most expensive examining method estimated at a maximum of about $ 4000. This figure is higher than X-Ray scans and CT scans which are considered more affordable. With regard to their effects on the human body, research has found out no biological side effects associated with the use of MRI for body imaging as compared to X-Ray whose application exposes patients to a wide range of health hazards (Radiology.org 1). These risks include but are not limited to birth defects, DNA mutation and the risk of being affected by cancer. Additionally, MRI can be applied in a myriad of medical conditions because of its versatility, unlike X-Ray whose application is limited to a few medical conditions.

The principle behind MRI is founded on magnetic fields as opposed to radiations that govern X-Ray technology. Radiations used in the latter are hazardous. As a result, MRI is able to show fine differences in soft tissues (UCSD Medical Center 1). On the other hand, X-Ray can be used to show existing differences between bone density and body tissues that are soft. The functioning principle of MRI further allows detailed results when used to scan the brain or soft tissues unlike X-Ray which is mainly used to scan broken and fractured bones.

Among the risks of using MRI is the fact that it may last for up to thirty minutes and may be uncomfortable to people who are claustrophobic unlike X-Ray which takes a few seconds or minutes before the scan is complete. MRI also has maximum weight limit of 500 pounds. Thus, MRI machines are not suitable for scanning obese people who mostly weigh above this maximum value. Research further indicates that MRI cannot be used to scan patients with metal objects in their bodies as compared to X-Ray which allows scanning and identification of metal objects in the human body (Radiology.org 1).

Solutions for X-Ray risks

Based on the effects of X-Rays discussed above, there is every need to adhere to radiation protection measures which reduce exposure risks for patients and doctors. It is important for radiologists to wear protective garments like aprons and gloves, preferably coated with lead (Miller 1). Additionally, radiologists are advised to stand behind lead screens to avoid direct contact with the beams which always get absorbed by the lead plate. These protective methods are aimed at guarding reproductive organs of patients and radiologists which are more susceptible to radiation effects. Patients should be discouraged from going for X-Ray scans unless it is medically necessitated for the purpose of gathering paramount diagnostic information that could not be achieved otherwise. Less lethal scanning methods like MRI should be used because of their minimum risk on human body (Wagner 1). This reduces exposure to radiations as compared to patients who are frequently scanned.

Due to the negative effects of X-Rays in pregnant women, it is more advisable for such women to avoid any exposure to protect the unborn child from deformation and other related risks. Less exposure to radiations also guarantees good health for pregnant women. In addition, it is important for patients to keep record of their X-Ray exposure history for proper advice. By revealing when and where one had an X-Ray scan, doctors are able to consider other safer methods of imaging other than continuously exposing the patient to harmful radiations (IAEA 1). Patients therefore need to keep records of films produced during scans in order to avail them to a medical practitioner whenever needed to do so. This is also important in avoiding reproduction of X-Ray procedures which increase a person’s exposure to dangerous radiations. Since most of the films are usually destroyed after some period of time, it would be important for patients to be allowed to keep their old films in order to have a track of their X-Ray exposure.

In addition, international bodies like the International Commission of Radiological Protection should be empowered to promote principles and recommendations for radiation protection. These principles govern the exposure of workers and the general public to radiations including X-Rays (IAEA 1). They further describe exposure dosage and emphasize on the need of minimizing overall radiation exposure.


It is more evident than not that X-Ray technology innovation has been conceived as one of the most important discoveries in medicine. Its history depicts factual information which affirms progressive steps and sacrifices made by individuals in refining this idea. There are tremendous benefits which have been realized across the board with significant emphasis in medicine. Diagnosis and correction of medical conditions has been simplified. Nevertheless, risk factors associated with radiations have to be mitigated to overcome countless fatal effects of X-Rays to human body. Of importance is minimization of radiation exposure through self-protection and use of alternative safer approaches.

Works Cited

IAEA. Radiation in Everyday Life. International Atomic Energy Agency, 2011. Web.

Miller, Amy. The History of the X-Ray. University of Mary Washington, 2003. Web.

Nobel Media, Close, Frank and Carlson, Per. X-rays. Nobel Media, 2001. Web.

Radiology.org. MRI of the Body. Radiological Society of North America. 2011. Web.

UCSD Medical Center. Applications and Clinical Benefits of MRI. University of California, San Diego. 2011. Web.

Wagner, Robert. Radiation and Cancer Risks: Is it safe to have X-Rays? Cancer News. 2009. Web.

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