Heating of Tissues by Microwaves: A Model Analysis

Kenneth R. Foster, Albert Lozano-Nieto, Pere J. Riu, Thomas S. Ely

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65 Scopus citations


We consider the thermal response times for heating of tissue subject to nonionizing (microwave or infrared) radiation. The analysis is based on a dimensionless form of the bioheat equation. The thermal response is governed by two time constants: one (τ1) pertains to heat convection by blood flow, and is of the order of 20-30 min for physiologically normal perfusion rates; the second (τ2) characterizes heat conduction and varies as the square of a distance that characterizes the spatial extent of the heating. Two idealized cases are examined. The first is a tissue block with an insulated surface, subject to irradiation with an exponentially decreasing specific absorption rate, which models a large surface area of tissue exposed to microwaves. The second is a hemispherical region of tissue exposed at a spatially uniform specific absorption rate, which models localized exposure. In both cases, the steady-state temperature increase can be written as the product of the incident power density and an effective time constant τeff, which is defined for each geometry as an appropriate function of τ1 and τ2. In appropriate limits of the ratio of these time constants, the local temperature rise is dominated by conductive or convective heat transport. Predictions of the block model agree well with recent data for the thresholds for perception of warmth or pain from exposure to microwave energy. Using these concepts, we developed a thermal averaging time that might be used in standards for human exposure to microwave radiation, to limit the temperature rise in tissue from radiation by pulsed sources. We compare the ANSI exposure standards for microwaves and infrared laser radiation with respect to the maximal increase in tissue temperature that would be allowed at the maximal permissible exposures. A historical appendix presents the origin of the 6-min averaging time used in the microwave Standard.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)420-428
Number of pages9
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics
  • Physiology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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