Radiobiological basis of low-dose irradiation in prevention and therapy of cancer

Dose Response. 2006 Nov 27;5(1):26-38. doi: 10.2203/dose-response.06-112.Pollycove.


Antimutagenic DNA damage-control is the central component of the homeostatic control essential for survival. Over eons of time, this complex DNA damage-control system evolved to control the vast number of DNA alterations produced by reactive oxygen species (ROS), generated principally by leakage of free radicals from mitochondrial metabolism of oxygen. Aging, mortality and cancer mortality are generally accepted to be associated with stem cell accumulation of permanent alterations of DNA, i.e., the accumulation of mutations. In a young adult, living in a low LET background of 0.1 cGy/y, the antimutagenic system of prevention, repair and removal of DNA alterations reduces about one million DNA alterations/cell/d to about one mutation/cell/d. DNA alterations from background radiation produce about one additional mutation per 10 million cells/d. As mutations accumulate and gradually degrade the antimutagenic system, aging progresses at an increasing rate, mortality increases correspondingly, and cancer increases at about the fourth power of age. During the past three decades, genomic, cellular, animal and human data have shown that low-dose ionizing radiation, including acute doses up to 30 cGy, stimulates each component of the homeostatic antimutagenic control system of antioxidant prevention, enzymatic repair, and immunologic and apoptotic removal of DNA alterations. On the other hand, high-dose ionizing radiation suppresses each of these antimutagenic protective components. Populations living in high background radiation areas and nuclear workers with increased radiation exposure show lower mortality and decreased cancer mortality than the corresponding populations living in low background radiation areas and nuclear workers without increased radiation exposure. Both studies of cancer in animals and clinical trials of patients with cancer also show, with high statistical confidence, the beneficial effects of low-dose radiation.