Estimating radiation-induced cancer risks at very low doses: rationale for using a linear no-threshold approach

Radiat Environ Biophys. 2006 Mar;44(4):253-6. doi: 10.1007/s00411-006-0029-4. Epub 2006 Feb 10.


The possible cancer risks caused by ionizing radiation doses of ~1 mSv or less are too small to be estimated directly from epidemiological data. The linear no-threshold (LNT) approach to estimating such risks involves using epidemiological data at higher (but still low) doses to establish an "anchor point", and then extrapolating the excess cancer risk linearly down from this point to the low dose of interest. The study in this issue by Professor Tubiana and colleagues, summarizing a French Academy of Sciences report, argues that such LNT extrapolations systematically give substantial overestimates of the excess cancer risk at very low doses. We suggest that, to the contrary, even if there are significant deviations from linearity in the relevant dose range, potentially caused by the effects of inter-cellular interactions or immune surveillance, we know almost nothing quantitatively about these effects. Consequently, we do not know the magnitude, nor even the direction of any such deviations from linearity-the risks could indeed be lower than those predicted by a linear extrapolation, but they could well be higher.

MeSH terms

  • Body Burden
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Differential Threshold
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Linear Models
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / epidemiology*
  • Proportional Hazards Models*
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Radiation Protection / methods
  • Radiation, Ionizing*
  • Relative Biological Effectiveness
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Factors