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Diagnostic X-rays – Radiation Doses

Diagnostic X-rays use a very small dose of ionizing radiation to produce pictures of the inside of the body. Diagnostic X-ray exams account for about 90% of the radiation dose the population receives from medical sources. Chest X-rays (about 100 µSv) are the most common, and they account for about 25% of all X-ray exams, followed by X-rays of the shoulder, pelvis, and limbs (another 25%) and dental X-rays (10%). Note that no direct evidence of radiation ever causing any harm at the exposure levels encountered with diagnostic radiological examinations.

X-rays belong to so-called low-LET radiation. Biological effects of any radiation increase with the linear energy transfer (LET) were discovered. In short, the biological damage from high-LET radiation (alpha particles, protons, or neutrons) is much greater than that from low-LET radiation (gamma rays, X-rays). This is because the living tissue can more easily repair damage from radiation spread over a large area than that concentrated in a small area. Of course, at very high levels of exposure, X-rays can still cause a great deal of damage to tissues.

In the following points, we try to express enormous ranges of radiation exposure and a few doses from medical sources.

  • 1 µSv – Eating one banana
  • 1 µSv – Extremity (hand, foot, etc.) X-ray
  • 5 µSv – Dental X-ray
  • 10 µSv – Average daily dose received from natural background
  • 40 µSv – A 5-hour airplane flight
  • 100 µSv – Chest X-ray
  • 600 µSv – mammogram
  • 1 000 µSv – Dose limit for individual members of the public, total effective dose per annum
  • 3 650 µSv – Average yearly dose received from natural background
  • 5 800 µSv – Chest CT scan
  • 10 000 µSv – Average yearly dose received from a natural background in Ramsar, Iran
  • 20 000 µSv – single full-body CT scan
  • 80 000 µSv – The annual local dose to localized spots at the bifurcations of segmental bronchi in the lungs caused by smoking cigarettes (1.5 packs/day).
  • 175 000 µSv – Annual dose from natural radiation on a monazite beach near Guarapari, Brazil.
  • 5 000 000 µSv – Dose that kills a human with a 50% risk within 30 days (LD50/30) if the dose is received over a very short duration.

As can be seen, low-level doses are common in everyday life.


Radiation Protection:

  1. Knoll, Glenn F., Radiation Detection and Measurement 4th Edition, Wiley, 8/2010. ISBN-13: 978-0470131480.
  2. Stabin, Michael G., Radiation Protection and Dosimetry: An Introduction to Health Physics, Springer, 10/2010. ISBN-13: 978-1441923912.
  3. Martin, James E., Physics for Radiation Protection 3rd Edition, Wiley-VCH, 4/2013. ISBN-13: 978-3527411764.
  5. U.S. Department of Energy, Nuclear Physics and Reactor Theory. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1 and 2. January 1993.

Nuclear and Reactor Physics:

  1. J. R. Lamarsh, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Theory, 2nd ed., Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA (1983).
  2. J. R. Lamarsh, A. J. Baratta, Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 3d ed., Prentice-Hall, 2001, ISBN: 0-201-82498-1.
  3. W. M. Stacey, Nuclear Reactor Physics, John Wiley & Sons, 2001, ISBN: 0- 471-39127-1.
  4. Glasstone, Sesonske. Nuclear Reactor Engineering: Reactor Systems Engineering, Springer; 4th edition, 1994, ISBN: 978-0412985317
  5. W.S.C. Williams. Nuclear and Particle Physics. Clarendon Press; 1 edition, 1991, ISBN: 978-0198520467
  6. G.R.Keepin. Physics of Nuclear Kinetics. Addison-Wesley Pub. Co; 1st edition, 1965
  7. Robert Reed Burn, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Operation, 1988.
  8. U.S. Department of Energy, Nuclear Physics and Reactor Theory. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1 and 2. January 1993.
  9. Paul Reuss, Neutron Physics. EDP Sciences, 2008. ISBN: 978-2759800414.

See above:

Medical Exposures