Can Airport Scanners Detect Inflammation?

credit: Andrea Starr | Pacific Northwest

Going through the full-body airport scanners feel like a daily routine for frequent flyers, but it can be pretty unnerving for those not used to the process. People have spoken about airport scanners picking up on specific medical conditions, but is this true, and can they detect inflammation?

Airport scanners cannot detect inflammation. Because inflammation does not protrude from the body, the scanners cannot pick it up. Airport scanners also cannot detect cancer-related inflammation but have been shown to detect abnormal bulges, cysts, and masses on the body.

Can Airport Scanners Detect Inflammation?

Airport scanners cannot detect inflammation inside the body but notice anything abnormal growing outside the body, like a mass. The newer and more current scanners that are used at airports work with radiofrequency, which can detect certain things on the body.

Similarly, airport scanners can’t detect cancer. Because both cancer and other forms of inflammation are inside the body, the scanners cannot see them. However, skin growths, implants, and other metallic or non-metallic things that protrude from the body can be detected.

Only external growths, whether inflamed or not, can be picked up by the millimeter-wave scanners. Growths inside the body are not detected at all.

Why Can’t Airport Scanners Detect Inflammation?

Inflammation occurs when the body has been injured in a certain way. For instance, if a person has a wound from a cut or a hard knock, it generally swells up a bit and becomes red. The redness and swelling are signs of inflammation.

It is the body’s immune response, where chemicals from the white blood cells go into the blood or tissues that are injured. These chemicals try to protect the body from germs or foreign objects.

Because this entire process occurs inside the body and does not protrude outwards as a bulge or external part, the airport scanner cannot pick it up. However, if a person has a mass or tumor distended from the inflamed body, the scanner could detect it as something outside the body.

Also, full-body scanners are not designed to detect inflammation. They are made to detect non-metallic items on bodies that metal detectors (like the previous scanners) could miss.

Can Airport Scanners Detect Cancer?

Because inflammation is often one of the signs of cancer, it would be interesting to note whether airport scanners can detect cancer. Airport scanners cannot detect cancer located deeper inside the body, like lung or brain cancer.

However, researchers have looked into airport scanners that possibly detect skin cancer and other benign skin lesions. Using the technology that airport scanners use – the millimeter wave radiation – scientists attempt to locate the correct place of the skin cancer.

As the millimeter wave rays point to the person’s body in the scanner, the skin cancer cells reflect a higher calibrated energy than the surrounding healthy skin. On the scanner screen, this shows up as a different color.

Does Yellow On The Airport Scanner Indicate Inflammation?

Sometimes the airport scanner image shows yellow patches on a person’s body. The yellow color may seem like it’s showing inflammation, but the yellow only means there is something that is not organically part of the body.

The warning on the scanner can mean a prosthesis, implant, stent, colostomy bag, and other metallic or non-metallic items that are usually not found on the body. If the scanner detects inflamed areas, it is more likely due to extreme swelling or protrusion from the body and not the inflammation itself.

What Are The Different Airport Scanners?

The full-body airport scanners in airports are the backscatter ones of the millimeter-wave scanners. These scanners are not found in all airports, but mainly in the bigger ones, with many international travelers going through them.

The former is used less frequently due to the controversy surrounding it. These scanners resulted in images that were too revealing, and people were generally opposed to having strangers see these images of them.

The latter, the millimeter-wave scanners, use radio frequencies and not x-rays. The backscatter ones can’t detect inflammation or other medical issues. They use a method of low-dose x-rays, which are not harmful to the body.

Radiofrequency waves are also low energy, and the waves bounce off the body and then back to the scanner to detect anything out of the ordinary.

How Do The Airport Scanners Work?

The most popular and frequently used full-body scanner, millimeter wave imaging, involves a lot of complicated science. The waves from the scanner are sent toward the body and go through the clothes. They also go through other external materials and then to the skin.

At this point, the waves are reflected and bounced back to show the security staff the image. Because it has to do with the skin, it makes sense that anything protruding from it will also show.

On the other hand, these scanners cannot detect any protrusions within the body, like a tumor on the lungs. Because these scanners are made to keep other passengers, personnel, and the aircraft safe, they are not concerned with medical-related issues.

The full-body scanners show either a green or red signal, indicating that the person can be cleared or checked. If something specific is picked up as a warning signal, there will be a note on the area or region that the security staff should search.

Airport Scanners Detect Abnormalities?

There have been some unique instances where airport scanners have detected something outside a person’s body, leading to a diagnosis. For example, there was a case of a woman who went through an airport scanner, where the scanner detected something abnormal about her that couldn’t be explained. It turned out to be a 1.5 cm cyst.

Another example is a man with a hernia protruding in his groin area. The lesion has to be quite prominent to be detected by the scanner.

Some Doctors state that scanners could also detect fatty lumps or abnormal distribution of fat on the body. But these are still seen as “external” to the normal body distributions and therefore detected by the scanner as something different.

Can Airport Scanners Detect All Medical Abnormalities

Airport scanners will not always and consistently be able to detect health-related masses or protrusions on the body. Specific medical research has investigated whether airport scanners can detect inflammation or medical problems. Current research is case studies of interesting and unique situations.

Although cases have been found, researchers suggest that full-body scanners are most of the time not sensitive enough to detect abnormalities and be used as an essential medical tool.

Can Airport Scanners Cause Inflammation

The X-rays used in the backscatter airport scanners are of such low energy that they do not harm the body or cause inflammation. Although the millimeter wave body scanners use radiation to do the scan, the waves are in the range of the non-ionizing radiation spectrum.

According to the WHO, people going through these full-body scanners may not be 100% risk-free, but considering that we are surrounded daily by other items that expose us to non-ionizing radiation, airport scanners do not seem so different.

Experts agree that airport scanners produce such small amounts that there is no real risk to passengers’ health.