The cancer epidemiology of radiation

Oncogene. 2004 Aug 23;23(38):6404-28. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1207896.


Ionizing radiation has been the subject of intense epidemiological investigation. Studies have demonstrated that exposure to moderate-to-high levels can cause most forms of cancer, leukaemia and cancers of the breast, lung and thyroid being particularly sensitive to induction by radiation, especially at young ages at exposure. Predominant among these studies is the Life Span Study of the cohort of survivors of the atomic bombings of Japan in 1945, but substantial evidence is derived from groups exposed for medical reasons, occupationally or environmentally. Notable among these other groups are underground hard rock miners who inhaled radioactive radon gas and its decay products, large numbers of patients irradiated therapeutically and workers who received high doses in the nuclear weapons programme of the former USSR. The degree of carcinogenic risk arising from low levels of exposure is more contentious, but the available evidence points to an increased risk that is approximately proportional to the dose received. Epidemiological investigations of nonionizing radiation have established ultraviolet radiation as a cause of skin cancer. However, the evidence for a carcinogenic effect of other forms of nonionizing radiation, such as those associated with mobile telephones or electricity transmission lines, is not convincing, although the possibility of a link between childhood leukaemia and extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields cannot be dismissed entirely.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Electromagnetic Fields
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Japan / epidemiology
  • Leukemia / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / epidemiology*
  • Nuclear Warfare
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • USSR / epidemiology
  • Ultraviolet Rays
  • United States / epidemiology