Medical tests can trigger radiation detectors
Travelers may now face a new security problem. They could set off
radiation detectors meant to detect smuggled nuclear-bomb material
but that also sense the small amounts of radioactive elements used
in exercise stress tests and other increasingly common medical procedures.
The numbers explain the situation:
There are now some 10,000 portable radiation detectors
deployed throughout the U.S. at metropolitan transit stations and
at border crossings and other points of entry. They may also be
set up at sporting events, political rallies, and the like. They
are not used at airport checkpoints, but may be at other airport
More than 16 million patients now undergo a medical
test or treatment that involves the use of a radioactive element
such as thallium or an iodine isotope.
Detectable levels of some elements can remain in the
body for as long as three months (see the table below).
The use of radiation detectors has been on the increase since Sept.
11, 2001. The number of people undergoing nuclear-medicine procedures
has also been growing, increasing the likelihood of tripping a detector.
To date, though, there are no figures for the number of people who
may have been stopped by these detectors.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
If you undergo a test or treatment involving radiation and expect
to travel or attend a large public gathering soon afterward, carry
a letter of explanation from your doctor. It can help clear up any
questions from security personnel if you do activate an alarm.
With some treatments (see the table below) you may need to keep
the letter on hand for one to three months. The letter should state
who can be contacted to independently confirm details of your treatment.
According to the Society of Nuclear Medicine, the doctors
letter should specify the name and date of the medical procedure,
the specific type of radioactive element used and its half-life,
and the amount of material administered. The letter should also
provide 24-hour contact information for the doctor or hospital.
HOW LONG WILL YOU STAY HOT?
This table is based on findings from a recent, as-yet-unpublished
study by Dr. Lionel Zuckier, professor of radiology at the University
of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and his colleagues. They
examined the length of time that common radiation treatments may
stay in the body and trigger security detectors.
||WHAT IT DOES
BE DETECTED IN BODY
Measures the bodys use of glucose
to detect various forms of cancer; also detects early Alzheimers
Less than 24 hours.
|Bone scans can
help detect cancer and find fractures or infections.
Thyroid scans diagnose disease of the thyroid gland.
|Up to 30 days.
||Used to treat thyroid
cancer and overactive thyroid.
|Up to 95 days.
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