Malignancies in patients treated with high doses of radium-224

Radiat Res. 1999 Dec;152(6 Suppl):S3-7.


Predominantly from 1945 to 1955, a group of patients in Germany was treated with multiple injections of the short-lived alpha-particle emitter (224)Ra. The patients suffered from ankylosing spondylitis, tuberculosis and in a few cases from other diseases. The "Spiess study" (study I) follows up the health of 899 of these patients; it includes most of the patients who were treated with high doses (mean bone surface dose: 30 Gy, mean specific activity: 0.66 MBq/kg), and nearly all of those treated under the age of 21 years. The most striking consequence of the (224)Ra injections was the occurrence of 56 malignant bone tumors. They appeared in a temporal wave that peaked around 8 years after exposure. A new analysis was recently performed, because a reassessment of the dosimetry resulted in changed bone surface doses, especially for the patients treated at younger ages. Averaged over all ages at exposure, the estimated risk coefficient is in general agreement with earlier analyses. However, there is now an increase in bone tumor risk that is significantly greater for younger ages at exposure. The earlier finding of an inverse protraction factor is confirmed. During the most recent years of follow-up, a significant excess of nonskeletal solid malignancies has become manifest. In 1998, a significant increase of breast cancer incidence, of soft tissue malignancies, of thyroid carcinomas, and of liver, kidney and bladder cancer was found. An eightfold increased risk of mammary cancers in those treated at a young age is particularly striking. Equally notable are two cases of breast cancer in male patients. To identify potential confounders, a control group of tuberculosis patients not treated with (224)Ra was established. The comparison confirms that the (224)Ra treatment is responsible for most of the excess of mammary cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bone Neoplasms / etiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Kidney Neoplasms / etiology
  • Leukemia, Radiation-Induced / etiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / etiology*
  • Radium / adverse effects*
  • Sarcoma / etiology
  • Spondylitis, Ankylosing / radiotherapy*
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / etiology


  • Radium