HealthWhy Doesn’t the Doctor Protect My Junk During an X-Ray?
The science behind why you're not wearing an iron cup whenever they're taking pics of your insides.
I was recently at the dentist for a routine cleaning and, before the usual lecture on the finer points of flossing, the hygienist took some X-rays of my teeth. She asked me to bite down on the film and put a lead vest over my chest, at which point I'm always reminded that X-rays are not to be messed with. But don't my boys need to be shielded from these invisible rays?,I thought before she slid behind the machine to snap a picture. What about my bloodline?
So I called Dr. James A. Brink, MD, FACR and chair of the American College of Radiology Board of Chancellors. He's a world-recognized expert in medical radiation and chair of radiation at Massachusetts General Hospital, as well as professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School. He cut right to the chase.
"Diagnostic X-rays will not cause sterility or infertility in men," he said. "The radiation dose is too low. There's a theoretical possibility of increased risk of mutations in offspring from radiation, but there has been no observable incidence of this."
In terms of the testes, Dr. Brink says that doctors will be sure to shield them during X-rays in patients who are in their child-spawning prime—but only if the huevos are in the direct line of fire.
"If the testes are in the beam, the only time they wouldn't be shielded is if the shielding covers an area that is important to make a diagnosis," says Dr. Brink. Break your pelvis, and your boys are getting bathed in subatomic particles. "The benefit of the exam is presumed to outweigh any theoretical risk," he explains, again using the word "theoretical" in a less-than-confidence-inspiring way.
Apparently you don't have to worry about a CT scan, either. "It's difficult to get a good diagnostic image during a scan like that and we likely need to get a good picture," says Brink. "But patients shouldn't be concerned if they're unable to have the shield during a scan for the same reason."
But do I need to wear a lead apron when nuking a DiGiorno? Should I risk pissing off the TSA by refusing to walk through that full-body scanner, instead demanding a pat-down from a man who's mastered the art of putting on plastic gloves angrily? Is the smartphone in my pocket denting the heads of my unborn children while downloading each of the 73 emails I get from J.Crew every day? ARE WE NOT LIVING IN A SWIRLING, INVISIBLE OCEAN OF WIFI AND RADIO WAVES AND ELECTROMAGNETISM?
Even six years ago we were pretty damn worried about the side effects of stashing our iPhones so close to our tenders. And in 2015, researchers at the University of Exeter found that the electromagnetic waves from cellphones have a negative effect on sperm mobility. It's mostly a concern for guys who already have infertility problems—if your swimmers can juke and spin like Cam Newton, they're not being radiated into Eli Mannings.
And Dr. Brink still advises that we all just chill out for a minute when it comes to radiowaved testicle concerns. "It's a bit periphery for me, but I can say with near-complete certainty that you don't have to worry about any of those things unless you're really at risk of infertility. The doses of modern equipment are too low."
So it seems your equipment is safe. For now.