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Small Cancer Risk from Low-Dose Radiation

It may cause 1% to 2% of maligancies in exposed workers, study finds

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TUESDAY, June 28, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Low doses of ionizing radiation are associated with a slightly increased risk of cancer, according to the largest-ever study of workers in the nuclear industry.

French researchers at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, in Lyon, looked at data on more than 407,000 nuclear industry workers -- mainly employees working at nuclear power plants, research centers, waste management facilities or fuel, isotopes and weapons production centers. The workers were located in 15 countries, and were tracked for an average of 13 years.

They estimated that a cumulative exposure of 100 millisieverts (mSv) would lead to a 10 percent increased risk of death from all cancers, excluding leukemia, and a 19 percent increased risk of death from leukemia, excluding chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Factors such as age, socioeconomic status and length of employment in the nuclear industry were taken into account.

Based on those estimates, the study authors conclude that 1 percent to 2 percent of cancer deaths among the nuclear industry workers in the study may be attributable to radiation.

However, the researchers also noted that many of the workers in the study were employed in the early years of the nuclear industry, when radiation doses in the workplace tended to be higher than they are today.

Current radiation protection guidelines limit occupational doses to 100 mSv over five years and doses to the public at 1 mSv per year.

The study was published in the June 28 online issue of the British Medical Journal.

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more about radiation.

SOURCE: British Medical Journal, news release, June 28, 2005


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