Radon and leukemia in the Danish study: another source of dose

Health Phys. 2009 Oct;97(4):343-7. doi: 10.1097/HP.0b013e3181ad8018.


An epidemiologic study of childhood leukemia in Denmark (2,400 cases; 6,697 controls) from 1968 to 1994 suggested a weak, but statistically significant, association of residential radon exposure and acute childhood lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The Danish study estimated a relative risk (RR) = 1.56 (95% CI, 1.05-2.30) for a cumulative exposure of 1,000 Bq m-3 y. For an exposure duration of 10 y their RR corresponds to a radon concentration of 100 Bq m-3. There are two dose pathways of interest where alpha particles could damage potential stem cells for ALL. One is the alpha dose to bone marrow, and two is the dose to bronchial mucosa where an abundance of circulating lymphocytes is found. Compared with an exposure of about 1 mSv y-1 from natural external background, radon and decay products contribute an additional 10 to 60% to the bone marrow equivalent dose. The other pathway for exposure of T (or B) lymphocytes is within the tracheobronchial epithelium (BE). Inhaled radon decay products deposit on the relatively small area of airway surfaces and deliver a significant dose to the nearby basal or mucous cells implicated in human lung cancer. Lymphocytes are co-located with basal cells and are half as abundant. Using a 10-y exposure to 100 Bq m-3, our dose estimates suggest that the equivalent dose to these lymphocytes could approach 1 Sv. The relatively high dose estimate to lymphocytes circulating through the BE, potential precursor cells for ALL, provides a dose pathway for an association.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants, Radioactive
  • Bone Marrow / radiation effects
  • Bronchi / radiation effects
  • Child
  • Epithelium / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Leukemia / epidemiology
  • Leukemia / etiology*
  • Lung / radiation effects
  • Lymph Nodes / radiation effects
  • Lymphocytes / radiation effects
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / etiology
  • Phagocytosis / radiation effects
  • Radiometry
  • Radon / analysis*
  • Risk


  • Air Pollutants, Radioactive
  • Radon