Answer to Question #12554 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Instrumentation and Measurements

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


In the early 1990s, I used an x-ray diffractometer with the safety features disabled and the door open. I do not know the exact operating conditions. I was exposed maybe five times for 10–20 minutes each time. At age 38 I was diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes and, now at 44, I have been diagnosed with breast cancer. I have multiple cancerous tumors. Has there been any link with radiation exposure from an x-ray diffractometer to occurrences of breast cancer? Also, what types of cancer are known to be caused by this type of exposure?


Without information that would be provided if you were wearing a radiation badge that measured your exposure, we cannot say with certainty that you were exposed to any radiation and at what level.

However, if you were to stand right beside the open door while the diffraction unit was operating, high radiation exposures are possible. High enough that, after 20–30 years, some biological effects (cataracts, cancer) could occur. 

There certainly is a link between high x-ray exposure (above at least 100 millisievert [mSv; a unit of effective radiation dose]) and cataracts and cancer. Standing beside an open door for tens of minutes while an x-ray diffractometer is operating could expose an individual to these levels thus giving the exposed organs enough radiation dose for bioeffects to occur after a 20–30-year latency period.

Without any occupational radiation monitoring, we don't know what level of radiation exposure occurred in the area or to you specifically. The potential does exist, though, for the radiation levels to be high enough to cause harmful effects.

Kelly Classic
Certified Medical Health Physicist

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 5 July 2018. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.