Why exactly is radiation so deadly? Why does it cause cancer or poisoning? What does it mean to be poisoned via radiation?



I’ve tried to research this before, but I’m not all that knowledgeable of biology. It took me forever to realize that cancer is just basically erratic cells that deprive the rest of the body resources while also putting strain on organs, etc. I understand the concept of HOW radiation comes into being (sort’ve) but I guess I’m just really confused on what about radiation is so deadly/dangerous. What does it to do the body to give such a horrific response? (Please feel free to dumb it down as much as possible. Biology and chemistry are not my strong suit lol)

Edit: I also just saw a post from 7 years ago that kinda addressed it but all those fancy terms just flew over my head. So uh, how about literally explain this concept to me like I’m 5.

In: Biology

It’s pretty complicated but I’ll try to do a true ELI5 for how it causes cancer. Your body has a bunch of instructions for how to make and do everything it needs saved within your cells along a string, just like a tape on a VHS tape. (The imaginary five year old was born in 1995 trust me).

The radiation is actually really tiny particles that fly through the air and can pass through your body. When they interact with the tape, they mess up the order of the instructions, just like if you brought a magnet near a real VHS tape. These mess ups are sometimes harmless, but sometimes cause a cell to keep growing uncontrollably, aka cancer. With enough radiation, and enough mess ups, cancer is all but guaranteed.

There are many types of radiation. Many of them are harmless. Microwave radiation, for instance, is only harmful if you get so much of it in one place that it heats up your body and burns you.

The type of radiation you’re discussing, primarily found during high-energy reactions like nuclear chemistry, has a lit of energy. Each individual particle (photon, electron, or whatever) has enough energy to knock the electron off of an atom.

This is important because when an electron is knocked off of an atom, it usually can no linger stay in whatever molecule it was in – this molecule must be rearranged a bit. If this molecule is super important, like DNA, then it being broken is really bad. The cell is damaged and will behave erratically. Normally our cell can repair itself, but it is imperfect and enough radiation will eventually cause cancer by chance.

Radiation poisoning comes from even larger doses of radiation. So many cells die all at once that various important bodily functions just turn off.

Think of radiation as being like little tiny bullets that travel really really fast. Certain types of radiation can damage your body’s cells, like how a bullet hitting a person will get injured. That damage can hurt the cells and turn them into cancerous growths, because the part of the cell that does its job and works correctly gets broken. Now the cell stops doing the job it has to keep your body working correctly, and just starts growing bigger and bigger, using up resources that the other cells need to do their jobs.

Radiation is deadly because it damages you on a cellular level. Radiation is the fast moving particles streaming out of a radioactive material. These little pieces slam into your cells and tear them apart. This does one of three things to you.
-It kills the cell
-It damages the cell beyond its capability to repair and reproduce
– it damages the cell, but It can reproduce and it reproduces itself in the damaged state.

Radiation poisoning isn’t poison, it’s just the bodies immune reaction to the damage to its cells and varies based on the damage.

your DNA is basically like a phone book or contacts list that a business needs to operate properly. because you need to call the office store to get paper delivered, or call the milk-man to get milk delivered, or maybe call up your customers to sell them things.

Radiation is basically like rain drops on pages of the phone book written in ink. Wherever the water lands, the ink smears, and the phone number or name in the book/list becomes unreadable.

you can still get by losing a few names and phone numbers, but not as well. If you lose too many names and numbers, then you can’t function at all.