What is Irradiation?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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Irradiation is a situation in which an individual or an object is exposed to some form of radiation. In some cases, this exposure is intentional and controlled. At other times, the exposure is unintentional and there are no control mechanisms that can limit the amount of exposure. Under the best circumstances, irradiation can be effective as a medical treatment, a component in a security network, and as a tool in the field of chemistry.

Over the years, urban legends have sprung up about the dangers of radiation exposure from appliances and cell phones. It is important to note that the level of irradiation emitted from these types of devices is generally classified as either low- or high-frequency non-ionizing radiation. Currently, there is no universally accepted research indicating that the emissions from microwave ovens, television transmissions, or hand held devices pose any threat to the body’s well being.


When many people think of irradiating, they associate the procedure with the treatment of cancer. It is not unusual for radiation therapy to be employed in an attempt to kill off cancer cells before they can multiply and spread throughout the body. Alternatively, when a tumor removed during surgery proves to be malignant, it is not unusual for irradiation to be administered in a series of sessions as a follow up to the surgical procedure. The radiation treatments are a first line attempt to kill off any remaining cancer cells that were beginning to spread from the tumor. Even when the surgeon is confident that the cancer was still self-contained, the treatments may be administered as a precautionary strategy.

Along with the treatment of cancer, irradiation is also effective in the sterilization of many different types of objects. Medical instruments such as those used during surgery are exposed to a controlled level of radiation as a means of killing off any bacteria on the surface of the instruments. In like manner, disposable tools such as syringes and lancets are also subjected to irradiation before being packaged for sale.

As a security measure against some forms of biological warfare or terrorism, irradiation can be used to kill off harmful bacteria contained in various objects such as letters, gift boxes, or document sleeves and files. Doing so helps to minimize the chances of exposure to airborne bacteria as well as accidentally handling an infected object and absorbing the agent through the skin.

When utilized under controlled circumstances, it is possible to determine the frequency and time frame of exposure to radiation. Thus, objects are subjected to irradiation only long enough to achieve the desired result. Controlling the level of irradiation means that patients undergoing radiation therapy will incur less damage to healthy cells, while medical instruments can be sterilized within a specific time frame. Even when using irradiation as a means of clearing an area that is possibly infected due to germ terrorism, the level and duration of exposure can be adjusted as the treatments continue until the threat is rendered harmless.


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