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Radiation Hormesis and Cancer

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Despite the long history of radiation hormesis and the public health concerns with low-level exposures to ionizing radiation, there has been surprisingly little formal evaluation of whether hormetic effects are displayed with respect to radiation exposure and cancer incidence ( i.e. , reduced cancer risk at low radiation doses compared to controls, enhanced cancer risk at higher doses) until relatively recently. This paper reviews data relevant to the question of radiation hormesis and cancer with particular emphasis on experimental studies in animal models exposed to low levels of ionizing radiation. Data exist that provide evidence both consistent with and/or supportive of radiation hormesis. Other biomedical research provides potentially important mechanistic insight: low dose exposures have the capacity to activate immune function to prevent the occurrence of tumor development and metastasis; low doses of radiation have been shown to reduce mutagenic responses and induce endogenous antioxidant responses. These findings are consistent with epidemiological data suggesting an inverse relationship between background radiation and cancer incidence and with occupational epidemiological investigations in which low-dose exposure groups display markedly lower standardized mortality rates than the referent or control group.

Keywords: cancer; hormesis; mutagenesis; radiation; risk assessment

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health and Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003

Publication date: April 1, 2002


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