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Is cancer caused by radiation?

Up to 10% of invasive cancers are related to radiation exposure, including both ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation. Additionally, the vast majority of non-invasive cancers are non-melanoma skin cancers caused by non-ionizing ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet’s position on the electromagnetic spectrum is on the boundary between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radio frequency radiation from mobile phones, electric power transmission, and other similar sources have been described as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, but the link remains unproven

Exposure to ionizing radiation is known to increase the future incidence of cancer, particularly leukemia. The mechanism by which this occurs is well understood, but quantitative models predicting the level of risk remain controversial. The most widely accepted model posits that the incidence of cancers due to ionizing radiation increases linearly with effective radiation dose at a rate of 5.5% per sievert. If the linear model is correct, then natural background radiation is the most hazardous source of radiation to general public health, followed by medical imaging as a close second.

Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun can lead to melanoma and other skin malignancies.[14] Clear evidence establishes ultraviolet radiation, especially the non-ionizing medium wave UVB, as the cause of most non-melanoma skin cancers, which are the most common forms of cancer in the world.[14]

Skin cancer may occur following ionizing radiation exposure following a latent period averaging 20 to 40 years.[15][16] A Chronic radiation keratosis is a precancerous keratotic skin lesion that may arise on the skin many years after exposure to ionizing radiation. Various malignancies may develop, most frequency basal-cell carcinoma followed by squamous-cell carcinoma. Elevated risk is confined to the site of radiation exposure. Several studies have also suggested the possibility of a causal relationship between melanoma and ionizing radiation exposure. The degree of carcinogenic risk arising from low levels of exposure is more contentious, but the available evidence points to an increased risk that is approximately proportional to the dose received.Radiologists and radiographers are among the earliest occupational groups exposed to radiation. It was the observation of the earliest radiologists that led to the recognition of radiation-induced skin cancer—the first solid cancer linked to radiation—in 1902.While the incidence of skin cancer secondary to medical ionizing radiation was higher in the past, there is also some evidence that risks of certain cancers, notably skin cancer, may be increased among more recent medical radiation workers, and this may be related to specific or changing radiologic practices.Available evidence indicates that the excess risk of skin cancer lasts for 45 years or more following irradiation