Radiation Exposure



Ionizing radiation can come from:

  • X-rays and CT scans
  • Cancer treatment
  • Radon—a gas in soil or water
  • Work such as mining
  • A nuclear accident or bomb
External Radiation Therapy for Cancer
Radiation of Tumor
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Risk Factors

The risk is higher for people who are near sources of radiation.

Health problems do not happen to everyone. The higher the exposure, the more likely there will be problems.

CT scans give more radiation thanX-rays. However, the dose and risk for health problems is low with both.



High doses of radiation over a short period of time may cause:

  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Hair loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Bleeding
  • Burns
  • Loss of organ function

Low levels may not cause symptoms. Sometimes cancers grow years after exposure. It may result in:

  • Leukemia and multiple myeloma
  • Lung cancer
  • Skin cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Breast cancer in women and men
  • Stomach cancer


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. Questions may be asked about any exposure to radiation. A physical exam may be done. Tests may be done on blood, urine, and stool.

A device may be used to check the amount of radiation in the body.



Treatment is based on the dose of exposure, the source, and the symptoms. The goal is to ease symptoms and reduce problems. It may include:

  • Removing contaminated materials, such as clothing and shoes
  • Showering with soap and warm water
  • Taking medicines to:
    • Ease pain, vomiting, and diarrhea
    • Prevent or treat infection
    • Treat contamination inside the body
  • Having fluids and electrolytes—to prevent dehydration
  • IV nutrition—if food cannot be taken by mouth
  • Using ointments for burns and injuries


The risk of exposure may be lowered by:

  • Following safety guidelines at work
  • Having radon tested at home
  • Talking about radiation exposure concerns with doctors and dentists

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.