Objective: Uranium miners are chronically exposed to low levels of radon and its progeny. We investigated whether radon exposure is associated with increased incidence of leukemia, lymphoma, or multiple myeloma in this population.
Design: We conducted a retrospective case-cohort study in 23,043 uranium miners and identified a total of 177 incident cases of leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. Detailed information on occupational radon exposure was obtained for the cases and a randomly selected subcohort of 2,393 subjects. We used the proportional hazards model with power relative risk (RR) function to estimate and test the effects of cumulative radon exposures on incidence rates.
Results: Incidence of all leukemia combined and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) alone was positively associated with cumulative radon exposure. The RR comparing high radon exposure [110 working level months (WLM) ; 80th percentile] to low radon exposure (3 WLM ; 20th percentile) was 1.75 [95% confidence interval (CI) , 1.10-2.78 ; p = 0.014] for all leukemia combined and 1.98 (95% CI, 1.10-3.59 ; p = 0.016) for CLL. Myeloid leukemia and Hodgkin lymphoma were also associated with radon, but RRs were not statistically significant. There was no apparent association of radon with either non-Hodgkin lymphoma or multiple myeloma. Exposure to radon and its progeny was associated with an increased risk of developing leukemia in underground uranium miners. CLL, not previously believed to be radiogenic, was linked to radon exposure.