What Sets Off the TSA Groin Alarm?

  • By: Chris
  • Last updated on February 4, 2023
  • Time to read: 7 min.
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So it’s gotten to the point where Googling “why do I set off airport body scanners groin” has gained popularity.

What a world.

You’ve got to be sick and tired of counting on the inevitable alarm and subsequent TSA groin pat-down.

I know I would be.

The good news is that there’s a simple reason why you’re setting off airport security.

Why Do I Set Off Airport Body Scanners?

why do i set off airport body scanners
If metal isn’t your concern, you might have to consider your health.

Unfortunately, there is a fair amount of misinformation online. 

Your experiences tell you one thing, while the so-called “experts” say another.

You’ll be glad to know that it’s not an elaborate practical joke or a TSA agent experiencing a sudden power trip.

So why all the fuss when you’re the only constant in the equation?

There are two potential reasons that you set off airport body scanners. Either you have metal on your person or under your skin (metallic implant). Or, you could have an underlying health issue.

Can Airport Scanners Detect Health Issues?

can airport scanners detect health issues
In my opinion (and many others), airport scanners can detect health issues.

It’s not widely accepted that airport scanners can detect health issues, but there is evidence.

I’m not saying you should cancel your yearly physical because you just returned from a Tahiti trip, even if your TSA agent complimented your complexion.

But it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that airport scanners can detect potential medical concerns on the surface.

You see, airport body scanners use advanced imaging technology (AIT) as an alternative to a walkthrough medical detector.

They look for metallic and non-metallic threats, whereas metal detectors only pick up metal like pocket knives and body jewelry

These machines are called Millimeter Wave Scanners and look like oversized telephone booths.

Remember those?

oversized telephone booth
MMW scanners are chunkier than a telephone booth, and the sensors rotate around your body as they scan.

TSA airport scanners use non-ionizing radio-frequency waves to create a targeted map of your body where points of suspicion remain.

It’s not like an x-ray machine. The suspect areas the scanner identifies will convey as a yellow box on a generic human outline.

Not an outline of your body dimensions.

So what does the yellow box mean if you don’t have metal in that area? 

The millimeter wave scanner has detected an anomaly.

This aberration could be as minor as a button on your jeans or the crease in your shirt.

Or, it might be a growth under your skin.

This unique fickleness from such an advanced machine is why so many have concerns about its widespread use.

France and Germany don't use millimeter wave technology
Inconsistencies led to some countries’ refusal to use millimeter wave technology for security methods.

It’s precisely why France and Germany decided not to use millimeter wave technology in security screenings back in 2011.

However, with recent advancements, this has changed. So much so that Germany is expected to lead the market share of MMW use in Europe through 2029.

But what about you? Why do you keep getting stopped?

I just dropped a bomb about potential health issues and continued rambling.

Sorry about that.

First, relax. 

relax about your groin
Take a breath. I’d bet that 9.5 times out of 10, setting off an airport scanner is simply a malfunction.

You’ve already learned how small measures like wrinkles in your pants can trigger a false alarm.

How about you and I go over some real-life examples of others in your situation?

You’ll see that this doesn’t have to be just an inconvenience but maybe a helpful nudge from the universe.

Either that, or you’ll be convinced that technology has a long way to go.

The Groin Anomaly

The groin anomaly is a bizarre yet common occurrence where many people are being stopped by TSA airport security because their groin is setting off an alarm.

groin anomaly is bizarre
Setting off airport scanners is a bizarre experience for any traveler.

I’ve read where some have hypothesized it has something to do with the femoral artery and the amount of blood flow causing an airport scanner to react adversely.

I can’t say that I buy too much into that. But you never know.

What does seem logical to me is the multitude of medical issues that can occur.

For example, there’s a story of a businessman who traveled as much as 20 times in 2 months, and each time he was subject to additional screening because the area just below his groin set off the body scanner.

After examination by a dermatologist, a form of skin cancer, nodular melanoma, was discovered.

Nodular melanoma is relatively small on the skin’s surface, measuring just over 1 cm.

But the Breslow thickness, the depth of the melanoma under the skin, can measure up to an additional 4 mm.

breslow thickness under the skin
Perhaps the MMW scanner can also pick up the Breslow Depth of melanoma.

Do you think that’s a sufficient anomaly to set off airport scanners?

Well, after the man had his nodular melanoma safely removed, all security issues at the airport ended.

Common sense tells me that melanoma was the culprit.

Why Does My Groin Set Off Airport Security?

The previous example of the groin alarm problem is enough to open your mind to the possibilities.

Maybe another one will turn you into a believer.

A 68-year-old man with an asymptomatic inguinoscrotal hernia suffered a similar humiliation.

The Mayo Clinic characterizes an inguinal hernia as a bulge in the genital region caused by tissue, such as part of the intestine, that protrudes through a weak spot in the abdomen.

It’s not usually life-threatening but can be a source of some pain.

why does my groin set off airport security hernia not life threatening
A hernia can have life-altering effects. But if it’s not deadly, besides the constant TSA trouble, you can live with it.

The 68-year-old had managed his hernia for five years and saw no reason to opt for surgery to remove it.


While traveling, a TSA agent thoroughly questioned the man because the airport security scanner revealed an unusual bulge concealed in his pants.

While it sounds like the start of a coarse joke, it was actually an uncomfortable experience for the man and his wife.

security escort to private room
The use of 4 armed TSA agents seems a bit excessive to me for a 68-year-old man.

Not believing his hernia explanation, the traveler was escorted by airport security to a private room, and his genitals were examined in the presence of four armed guards.

After this awful moment that ruined his vacation, the man returned home and had the hernia surgically repaired.

It’s a terrible position for anyone, but it further bolsters the argument that underlying health issues can be a direct cause of your groin setting off airport security scanners.

Does the Airport Scanner Yellow Box Mean I Have Cancer?

does the airport scanner yellow box mean i have cancer
The yellow box just means further investigation is needed. Don’t jump to conclusions, especially about cancer.

No, the yellow box on an airport scanner does not mean you have cancer. Could you have cancer? Sure.

But the millimeter wave scanner displaying the yellow box is not directly correlated to cancer.

However, the National Cancer Institute does confirm that one of the most significant signs of cancer is a new lump, mole, or growth in the groin area, among others.

So, it’s worth setting an appointment with a physician, especially if you’re getting stopped every time you go through airport security.

Below is an insightful clip where the hosts of “The Doctors” discuss the potential of airport scanners detecting medical problems.

Can Airport Scanners Detect Inflammation?

Inflammation is a biological response to an intruder in your body. Whether it’s a virus, wound, or natural poison, the body releases plasma and types of white blood cells to fight the intruder.

Despite some swelling, inflammation doesn’t alter the form of your body and won’t be detected by airport scanners.

But with that in mind, inflammation can be a side effect of another medical issue that does cause airport scanners to alert operators.

inflammation is not detected by inflammation. But obesity may be the problem
Inflammation can easily be a sign of other more concerning issues.

For instance, obesity can lead to chronic inflammation and certain kinds of cancer.

Knowing how sensitive the millimeter wave scanners can be, inflammation may be the byproduct of the leading non-metallic cause for concern.

TSA Groin Pat-down

Let’s say you get stopped by the TSA groin alarm. What then?

You won’t be degraded like the 68-year-old man with a hernia, will you?

Well, I hope not.

The accepted technique is called sliding if a TSA groin pat-down is required.

Simply put, “sliding” is the act of a TSA agent using the back of their hand to slide up and down the traveler’s legs until resistance is met.

sliding for tsa groin pat down
Using the hand’s back is the TSA policy for “sliding.”

This method is used on other sensitive areas of the body as well.

While the policy is firmly upheld, I wish I could say it is 100% followed.

There are unfortunate moments when the front of the hands is used, or excessive searching is performed.

Know your rights. If this ever happens, report it immediately to authorities.

What Can I Do to Avoid Setting Off Airport Body Scanners?

what can i do to avoid setting off airport body scanners
First, check for metal. After that, you don’t have many options.

The only control you have to avoid setting off airport body scanners is to ensure you’ve removed any metal on you.

Any other reason the scanner would alert TSA would be out of your hands. 

If it’s a malfunction, I’d think the issue would be a one-time instance and quickly resolved with a pat-down or visual inspection.

If the alarm is related to a potential health issue, get something valuable from the experience.

Keep an open mind and consider feasible alternatives.

Final Thoughts

did i answer your tsa groin question
I hope you got all the information you need. There is still so much unknown about this issue.

Did I answer your question about the elusive TSA groin alarm?

Remember, it’s metal related, or it’s not. If its metal, that’s an easy fix and a minor inconvenience.

If you set off airport metal detectors because of your groin or another area, don’t rule out health circumstances as the offender.

You’d rather be safe than sorry, right?

Until next time, good luck with your travels!

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