Cancer is one of the leading health concerns in the world today. Any person, as long as they are alive, can develop cancer. Cancer is the rapid proliferation of any cell type in the body without the normal mechanisms in place to stop that growth. The body also has a mechanism called apoptosis or programmed cell death. In cancer, apoptosis does not occur, leading to the build-up of more and more cells.
While there are many factors that come into play for cancer to develop, such as race, age, and heredity, there are other outside sources that can contribute to a person developing cancer like their diet or lifestyle. However, the chief concern that most people have is regarding radiation as a causative agent of cancer.
What is Radiation
Radiation is produced when atoms disintegrate. This disintegration of atomic particles releases energy and that energy is radiation. Different elements have different levels of radioactivity. How harmful radiation is depends on the source of the radiation, the amount a person was exposed to, and the duration of the exposure.
Where Does it Come From
Radiation comes from a lot of different sources like soil and water. These are normal and are usually present in minimal amounts that won’t cause harm. Another source of radiation comes from outside the planet. Ultraviolet rays from the sun are a chief example.
Other sources of radiation include x-rays and computerized axial tomography or CAT scans. These have radiation in tolerable doses and are not a cause for alarm unless you’re pregnant or you are directly exposed to radiation every day.
How Does It Harm People
Radiation can disrupt the normal replication of DNA, the basis of normal cell replication. Any disruption in the genetic code can lead to a mutation of the DNA strand that was produced. This mutation can change the code in such a way that the cells that should stop multiplying would continue to do so, or cells that should die do not.
The human body is amazing because it has failsafe mechanisms that are in place in case mutated cells do appear. However, there are limits to what the body can do and if the damage is too great, the body cannot cope with restoring the normal physiology.
While there is no set amount of radiation that is safe to be exposed to, there are tolerable amounts. The greater the amount of radiation, the more serious is the health effect. The worst that could happen to a person exposed to a lot of radiation is the shutdown of the central nervous system which would eventually lead to death.
Those happen only in extreme cases of radiation. Generally speaking, there are two different categories of health effects. They are based on the duration of the exposure and the intensity or amount of radiation a person was exposed to.
1. Stochastic Health Effects
These are from chronic or long term exposure to low levels of radiation. While there are no immediate effects from the low levels of radiation, the constant exposure will lead to a build-up of radiation in the body. This type of exposure is usually responsible for cancer.
2. Non-stochastic Health Effects
These result from an acute or short term exposure to high levels of radiation. The more exposure a person gets leads to a more severe illness. Non-stochastic health effects present as different symptoms which include diarrhea and nausea. These usually manifest soon after exposure.
How We Can Protect Ourselves
One type of radiation that humans can defend against is the ultraviolet radiation, or UV, from the sun. Some sunscreens can protect from both UVA and UVB, the two types of UV that passes into the earth’s atmosphere. Another way to minimize UV exposure is to stay indoors. While UV can be reflected indoors, it is not as harmful as a direct exposure would be.
Other than staying away from nuclear power plants and limiting x-ray and other imaging studies done to a minimum, there really isn’t any way to protect ourselves. Radiation is all around us.
The body can tolerate minimal amounts of radiation, and that’s usually what is present in the environment, just minimal amounts. There is no reason to be paranoid about radiation as long as you keep your body healthy because a healthy body can handle the radiation.