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For years, many have expressed privacy concerns over the use of body scanners at airports. However, the technology that peeks underneath our clothing has great potential for looking underneath our skin to diagnose cancer at the earliest and most treatable stages.
X-ray vs. T-rays
The most common types of airport body scanners either use X-ray or Terahertz rays (T-rays). In late 2012, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) quietly began removing X-ray based body scanners and replacing them with Terahertz based ones. Terahertz scanners, or millimeter-wave scanners, are non-ionizing and much safer than X-rays.
T-rays have the ability to look through human skin and tissue. Since it is non-ionizing, T-rays do not have enough energy to remove electrons from molecules, which means they won’t mutate our cells. Therefore, they can be harmlessly focused into our body to capture biochemical signatures of events like the start of cancer.
"We can take an image of the suspected area on the skin surface and under the skin surface at different depths to see if there is anything that looks totally different under the normal tissue," explains Dr. Anis Rahman, the chief technology officer of Applied Research and Photonics.
Detecting Malignant Melanoma
Although much more research needs to be done, T-rays show a lot of promise. The technology may be especially helpful in detecting early stages of malignant melanoma, the most serious form of cancer that starts in the deepest part of the outer layer of the skin that occurs long before people can see mole symptoms on the visible part of the skin.
Over 76,500 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2013 in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society.