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Improved Airport Scanners

Posted 3/26/2014

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  What, you might reasonably ask, do airport body scanners have to do with breast cancer? And the answer is that, especially during the first months of their use, there were many humiliating experiences for many people who had undergone various medical/surgical procedures. You may recall some of the terrible newspaper articles about elderly women in wheelchairs who were stopped and frisked because the x-ray scanner saw "something worrisome" that turned out to be a Depends. For women with breast cancer, the problems generally were related to mastectomies. The scanners "saw" prostheses and, sometimes, the small ports that are used during the expansion phase post reconstruction.

  I travel fairly often, and I remember those months with unease. The scanner always noted the prosthesis, apparently didn't know what it was, and resulted in my being pulled over and subjected to a physical pat down. It didn't help to explain the problem, and I quickly learned a few strategies to avoid the embarrassment. The options were to remove the prosthesis in the bathroom, put it in my purse, go through Security, and then put the prosthesis back in on the other side OR to flip it out along with taking off my jacket and shoes, putting it in the little box that down the conveyor belt and staring back at the people near me who were giving me various forms of horrified looks. My behavior depended on my mood of the day.

  Recently I realized that none of this had been necessary for several years. Whether the scanners themselves have been improved or, more likely, whether the readers of the pictures now recognize a prosthesis when they see it on the images, it is no longer an issue. Thankfully. I was glad to see this article from about the improvement of the scanners, and, if you fly sometimes, you likely will be interested.

Airport Body Scanners are Less Revealing — and Less of a Health Risk

I think plane travel is a miracle. A few short hours in the air can take me to far-flung loved ones or mean the difference between a regular day at home and a fabulous adventure. It always amazes me to know that I can wake up at home and go to sleep someplace halfway around the world all in the same day.

Still, air travel can get extremely complicated, even after my packing is done. The airport is an obstacle course of slow, winding lines at security, greasy and overpriced food, uncomfortable sparse seating at the gate, and sudden flight delays with more lines to re-book. Then there’s my fear of flying. Does any of this sound familiar?

There are also the body scanners that have been part of security checks since 2008. Some travelers worry about looking virtually naked going through security. Others are worried the scanners are exposing them to cancer-causing radiation.

You’ve probably heard these concerns and wondered about them. I know I did.


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