Residential Exposure to Natural Background Radiation and Risk of Childhood Acute Leukemia in France, 1990-2009

Environ Health Perspect. 2017 Apr;125(4):714-720. doi: 10.1289/EHP296. Epub 2016 Aug 2.


Background: Exposures to high-dose ionizing radiation and high-dose rate ionizing radiation are established risk factors for childhood acute leukemia (AL). The risk of AL following exposure to lower doses due to natural background radiation (NBR) has yet to be conclusively determined.

Methods: AL cases diagnosed over 1990-2009 (9,056 cases) were identified and their municipality of residence at diagnosis collected by the National Registry of Childhood Cancers. The Geocap study, which included the 2,763 cases in 2002-2007 and 30,000 population controls, was used for complementary analyses. NBR exposures were modeled on a fine scale (36,326 municipalities) based on measurement campaigns and geological data. The power to detect an association between AL and dose to the red bone marrow (RBM) fitting UNSCEAR (United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation) predictions was 92%, 45% and 99% for exposure to natural gamma radiation, radon and total radiation, respectively.

Results: AL risk, irrespective of subtype and age group, was not associated with the exposure of municipalities to radon or gamma radiation in terms of yearly exposure at age reached, cumulative exposure or RBM dose. There was no confounding effect of census-based socio-demographic indicators, or environmental factors (road traffic, high voltage power lines, vicinity of nuclear plants) related to AL in the Geocap study.

Conclusions: Our findings do not support the hypothesis that residential exposure to NBR increases the risk of AL, despite the large size of the study, fine scale exposure estimates and wide range of exposures over France. However, our results at the time of diagnosis do not rule out a slight association with gamma radiation at the time of birth, which would be more in line with the recent findings in the UK and Switzerland.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Background Radiation*
  • Child
  • Female
  • France / epidemiology
  • Gamma Rays
  • Housing / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Radiation-Induced / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Radiation Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Radiation, Ionizing
  • Radon
  • Risk Assessment


  • Radon