Ionizing radiation begins at the ultra violet level of the electromagnetic spectrum. The spectrum is a range of energy forms that are transmitted in waves. This includes UVA, UVB, x-rays, gamma rays and cosmic rays. Ionizing radiation has high energy and shorter wavelengths than does the other side of the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes the lower energy, longer wavelengths, known as nonionizing radiation. Shorter and high-energy wavelengths mean that they can be harmful. Ionizing radiation can cause many kinds of illnesses and diseases including cancer. The reason these shorter and high-energy wavelengths can be damaging is the fact that they have the ability to disrupt millions of biological molecules in living cells. By affecting the electrons in atoms and changing them to positively charged ions, the damage occurs resulting in the transformation of biological molecules into harmful molecular forms. This kind of biological transformation is called somatic damage. Somatic damage affects only the individual receiving the radiation.
Another form of damage caused by ionizing radiation is genetic damage, whereby the molecules that are inherited are disorganized causing damage to future generations, thus explaining the distinction between somatic and genetic damage.
Gamma rays are the most energetic form of electromagnetic radiation, and if used correctly, can have beneficial purposes for persons with cancer. Radiation therapy is used on certain cancer patients where some tumors are inoperable. Gamma rays are absorbed by the malignant tissue and the tissue dies. The rays can also detect brain and cardiovascular abnormalities. .
Gamma rays are invisible to the human eye, and are in fact the most powerful form of light, far more energetic than visible light, ultraviolet radiation and x-rays. Astronomers use gamma radiation, as much of what goes on in the universe is high energy processes at work.