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Home > Physics > Health physics > Using the spectrum


Using the spectrum

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Using the spectrum in medicine

Many parts of the electromagnetic spectrum are used in medicine. You should be able to describe some of these uses. The following facts will be of help although you may have been taught other uses for some or all of the parts of the spectrum.

  • A laser is a concentrated high-energy beam of light. A carbon dioxide laser is used to treat tumours. An argon laser is used to repair damage to the retina of the eye. An argon laser is also used to remove birthmarks.
  • X-rays pass through soft body tissue but are absorbed by dense bones in the body. X-rays darken an unexposed photographic film. They are used to detect breaks in bones - the break showing up as a dark line on a photographic film while the bone appears white.
  • Gamma rays are produced by tracers taken into the body and detected using a gamma camera.

Video: Gamma rays treat brain tumours

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  • Ultraviolet radiation is used to treat skin conditions such as acne. Ultraviolet radiation is also used to sterilise equipment because it can kill harmful bacteria. Too much exposure to ultraviolet radiation may produce skin cancer.
  • Infrared radiation is another term for heat. Infrared radiation is used to treat strained muscles and tissue. Infrared radiation is also used to diagnose tumours. This works because a tumour emits more infrared radiation than healthy tissue does. This radiation can be detected on a thermogram - a photograph taken using infrared radiation.

Video: Infrared used to diagnose Raynaud's Syndrome

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Now try an Activity

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An x-ray image of a skeleton.

Class Clips

Video clip about how x-rays allow us to see inside a body.

Watch the following video clips about different waves of the spectrum:

Medical uses of X-rays

Medical uses of visible light

Radiowaves - electromagnetic field

Microwaves - electromagnetic waves

Gamma rays - electromagnetic spectrum

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