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In the early days of X-rays, many technicians and radiologists suffered some really serious health problems as a result of their work. By exposing different parts of their body to some very high dosages of radiation on a frequent basis, they had no idea of the potential damage they were inflicting on themselves.
Thankfully for their colleagues that would follow, the link between radiation exposure and damage to living tissue was quickly identified and safety procedures were introduced to help save lives.
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What deformities did radiologists and technicians suffer from in the past?
The field of radiology is not one to be trifled with. In the early days of the field, few knew the dangers of the materials they were playing with and ultimately suffered for it.
Here are some examples of health issues and deformities that many of these early radiologists were inflicted with.
1. Early radiologists' hands really did suffer
Early radiologists would calibrate their X-ray machines by sliding a hand slowly through the beam in thirty second intervals. This photo (c.1900) shows the damage caused by radiation exposure. Image: @ExploreWellcome. pic.twitter.com/jAONq3Hlr5— Lindsey Fitzharris (@DrLindseyFitz) December 30, 2018
In the early days of radiology, radiologists would calibrate their X-ray machines by sliding placing their hand through the beam every thirty seconds or so. Such high radiation exposure really did take its toll, as you can see in the image above.
2. Many early radiologists suffered from radiogenic dermatitis
Shortly after Wilhelm Röntgen published his first paper on the discovery of X-rays in 1895, the first reported case of radiogenic dermatitis was made in 1896. People suffering from this disorder often reported mild irritation or worse, burns.
In excessive cases, the skin would blister or pieces of skin would actually slough off. This was not only incredibly painful but very distressing from sufferers.
3. Some early radiologists suffered from metastatic carcinoma
Some early radiologists suffered from something called metastatic carcinoma. This is the technical term for the spread of cancer to other cells in the body; usually via the lymphatic system or bloodstream.
One striking example is the story of Fritz Giesel in the late 1890s.
"In 1896, Otto Walkhoff and Fritz Giesel established the first dental roentgenological laboratory in the world. For many years the laboratory provided practitioners with images of the jaw and head. Fritz Giesel later died in 1927 of metastatic carcinoma caused by heavy radiation exposure to his hands." - K. Sansare et al, 2011.
4. Cataracts are still a risk for radiologists today
While less common, early radiologists (and modern ones for that matter), ran the risk of developing cataracts through their work activities. While very rare today, constant exposure to relatively high levels of radiation can cause damage to the technician's eye lenses.
Ionizing radiation, like the form produced by X-rays, will injure and/or alter the tissues of the eye's lens causing the development of cataracts.
5. Some early radiologists also suffered from hair loss
Hair loss was another potential problem that early radiologists suffered from. It is also one of the main risks for radiologists today,
In the past, radiologists and technicians reported seeing hair loss on those areas of their body usually exposed to X-rays. Mainly in places like their hands or arms.
This phenomenon is also quite common today, especially for patients undergoing radiation therapy.
"Radiation therapy will generally cause hair loss to the body part that is being treated. For example, if your arm were treated with radiation, you may lose any hair on your arm, but the hair on your head would not be affected. ... Chemotherapy drugs also can cause hair loss." - oncolink.org.
6. Some radiologists even died
So serious was the level of exposure to radiation by some early radiologists, that they eventually paid the ultimate price. One notable case was that of Wolfram C. Fuchs.
He opened the first X-ray laboratory in Chicago in 1896 and made the first X-ray film of a brain tumor in 1899. Fuchs would eventually die of radiation-induced diseases in 1907.
Other reported cases of radiology-related deaths included X-ray tube manufacturers. Most of these deaths were attributed to metastatic cancer and associated complications.
7. Radiogenic tumors were also a potential occupational hazard for early radiologists
Another pretty serious condition that early radiologists suffered from was something called radiogenic neoplasms or tumors. These are malignant or atypical sheath tumors created by severe exposure to radiation, like X-rays.
In one particular case, the resulting pain was so unbearable, that the sufferer actually committed suicide.
"The case of C. Edmund Kells is well known. Kells developed a radiogenic neoplasm in 1922 and endured increasing discomfort and excruciating pain. Kells did not listen to the warning given by William Rollins regarding radiation hazards. He had undergone 42 operations and several amputations (some have reported 100). On 7 May 1928 Kells triggered a 0.32 caliber bullet into his brain." - K. Sansare et al, 2011.