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Mortality from diseases other than cancer following low doses of ionizing radiation: Results from the 15-Country Study of nuclear industry workers

Journal title : International Journal of Epidemiology
Volume : 36
issue : 5
Pagination : 1126-1135
Publication date : 01/10/2007


Background: Ionizing radiation at very high (radio-therapeutic) dose levels can cause diseases other than cancer, particularly heart diseases. There is increasing evidence that doses of the order of a few sievert (Sv) may also increase the risk of non-cancer diseases. It is not known, however, whether such effects also occur following the lower doses and dose rates of public health concern. Methods: We used data from an international (15-country) nuclear workers cohort study to evaluate whether mortality from diseases other than cancer is related to low doses of external ionizing radiation. Analyses included 275 312 workers with adequate information on socioeconomic status, over 4 million person-years of follow-up and an average cumulative radiation dose of 20.7 mSv; 11 255 workers had died of non-cancer diseases. Results: The excess relative risk (ERR) per Sv was 0.24 [95% CI (confidence intervals) -0.23, 0.78] for mortality from all non-cancer diseases and 0.09 (95% CI -0.43, 0.70) for circulatory diseases. Higher risk estimates were observed for mortality from respiratory and digestive diseases, but confidence intervals included zero. Increased risks were observed among the younger workers (attained age smaller than 50 years, identified post hoc) for all groupings of non-cancer causes of death, including external causes. It is unclear therefore whether these findings reflect real effects of radiation, random variation or residual confounding. Conclusions: The most informative low-dose radiation study to date provides little evidence for a relationship between mortality from non-malignant diseases and radiation dose. However, we cannot rule out risks per unit dose of the same order of magnitude as found in studies at higher doses.


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