Purpose: This paper reviews and reassesses the internationally accepted niches or 'targets' in bone marrow that are sensitive to the induction of leukaemia and primary bone cancer by radiation.
Conclusions: The hypoxic conditions of the 10 μm thick endosteal/osteoblastic niche where preleukemic stem cells and hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) reside provides a radioprotective microenvironment that is 2- to 3-fold less radiosensitive than vascular niches. This supports partitioning the whole marrow target between the low haematological cancer risk of irradiating HSC in the endosteum and the vascular niches within central marrow. There is a greater risk of induced bone cancer when irradiating a 50 μm thick peripheral marrow adjacent to the remodelling/reforming portion of the trabecular bone surface, rather than marrow next to the quiescent bone surface. This choice of partitioned bone cancer target is substantiated by the greater radiosensitivity of: (i) Bone with high remodelling rates, (ii) the young, (iii) individuals with hypermetabolic benign diseases of bone, and (iv) the epidemiology of alpha-emitting exposures. Evidence is given to show that the absence of excess bone-cancer in atomic-bomb survivors may be partially related to the extremely low prevalence among Japanese of Paget's disease of bone. Radiation-induced fibrosis and the wound healing response may be implicated in not only radiogenic bone cancers but also leukaemia. A novel biological mechanism for adaptive response, and possibility of dynamic targets, is advocated whereby stem cells migrate from vascular niches to stress-mitigated, hypoxic niches.