How ra­di­a­tion causes can­cer

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - HOW YOUR WORLD WORKS -

Roughly 15 per cent of the en­ergy re­leased in the ini­tial blast and fall­out of an atomic bomb is high-fre­quency ion­is­ing ra­di­a­tion. Un­like other forms of ra­di­a­tion, such as vis­i­ble light and mi­crowaves, ion­is­ing ra­di­a­tion is fast and en­er­getic enough to strip elec­trons from mol­e­cules, in­clud­ing the ones that make up the cells in your body. That ra­di­a­tion ran­domly da­m­ages the DNA in your cells – as if you’ve been shot with mil­lions of tiny pins. (UV rays are bor­der­line ion­is­ing, which is why you can get skin can­cer from tan­ning.) If ion­is­ing ra­di­a­tion strips enough elec­trons from your DNA, or if you’re un­lucky and it hits the wrong places in your genome, the genes that con­trol cell growth can start to func­tion ab­nor­mally. Cer­tain cells di­vide out of con­trol, caus­ing tu­mours, leukemias, or other can­cers. The risk is par­tic­u­larly high for chil­dren, whose cells have di­vided less of­ten and are more likely to run amok if dam­aged.

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