Cancer among medical diagnostic x-ray workers in China

J Natl Cancer Inst. 1988 May 4;80(5):344-50. doi: 10.1093/jnci/80.5.344.


Cancer incidence among 27,011 diagnostic x-ray workers was compared to that of 25,782 other medical specialists employed between 1950 and 1980 in China. X-ray workers had a 50% higher risk of developing cancer than the other specialists [relative risk (RR) = 1.5; 95% CI = 1.3-1.7]. Leukemia was strongly linked to radiation work (RR = 3.5, n = 30). Cancers of the breast (RR = 1.4, n = 11), thyroid (RR = 2.1, n = 7), and skin (RR = 1.5, n = 6) were increased among x-ray workers employed for 10 or more years. High risks of cancers of the esophagus (RR = 3.5, n = 15) and liver (RR = 2.4, n = 48) were not consistent with a radiation effect since risk did not vary by duration of employment. This finding suggested that some differences might exist between groups of hospital workers in social class, alcohol intake, dietary habits, and other risk factors. No excess lung cancer (RR = 0.9, n = 22) or multiple myeloma (n = 0) was observed. Significant excesses of leukemia and cancers of the breast and thyroid occurred among x-ray workers first employed prior to 1960 when radiation exposures in China were high. In fact, it was not uncommon for employees to be given time off from x-ray work because their wbc count was severely depressed. These data indicated that repeated exposure to x-rays over many years can increase the risk of leukemia and several other tumors but apparently not that of lung cancer.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • China
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Radiography / adverse effects*
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology