Women with breast cancer express fears over airport full body scanner

Added 05/07/2010

Woman with baggage

The full body scanner has been introduced at Manchester, Gatwick and Heathrow airports in order to step up security. The scanners can clearly show weapons or other items of a threatening nature hidden beneath clothing.

But women with breast cancer are concerned about the invasive nature of the procedure, as external breast prostheses will clearly show up on the x-rays. If you have a breast prosthesis and you are asked to enter the full body scanner, tell the security officer on duty. If you tell them about your prosthesis, then you are less likely to be searched after the scan. Also, take a letter from your doctor with you to the airport that includes details of your breast prosthesis.

Your prosthesis may raise alarm bells and you could be searched. The search would take place in a private, lockable room, and you are at liberty to have a family or friend in the room with you. The search would be carried out by an officer of the same sex.

When the full body scanner is used, the person’s identity is protected. The security officer examining the image must not see the person in real life and the person that is being scanned can ask for their x-ray to be viewed by an officer of the same sex. Once an image has been viewed, it will immediately be deleted.

Some are concerned that the scanners might actually cause cancer, but radiation levels are minimal. There are two types of scanners currently in use - the millimetre wave scanner and the backscatter x-ray. The millimetre wave scanner does not use ionising radiation, whereas the backscatter does. However the backscatter only x-rays at skin level, so the radiation levels are much lower than those used in medical x-rays.

Only around 20% of travellers that pass through UK airports will be asked to enter the full body scanner, so try not to get too stressed about the procedure - you might not even get subjected to it.

The full body scanner has been put in place at airports in response to the attempted attack on Northwest airlines on Christmas day in 2009. Airport security continues to be stepped up in order to put a stop to international threats of terrorism.

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