Study Suggests Background Radiation Responsible for Some Leukemia

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Pediatric exposure to radiation has been a hot topic in the imaging world since a Lancet study last week cautioned against the long-term effects of CT exposure on childhood cancer patients.

Now additional research has been released that demonstrates the relationship, however small, of natural exposure to background gamma radiation in cases of leukemia.

For every millisievert of natural gamma-ray dose to the bone marrow, researchers calculated a relative leukemia risk increase likely within a range of 3% to 22% per millisievert.

"In terms of preventing childhood cancers caused by natural gamma-rays, there’s not a lot you can do," said lead researcher Gerald Kendall in a press release accompanying the study.

"We have estimated that about 15% of the 500 or so cases of childhood leukaemia which occur annually in the UK are due to natural background radiation…approaching 40 childhood leukaemias a year,” he said.

Previous exposure guidance had been modeled on risks estimated from survivors of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which only offered extreme examples. The novelty of the approach cited in the journal Leukemia was grounded in “a very large record-based case-control study testing associations between childhood cancer and natural background radiation,” according to a press release.