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Small Amounts of Radiation May Lead to Leukemia Over Time Study Suggests

Jul 15, 2015

A recent study published in The Lancet Haematology suggests that long-term low doses of radiation may increase the risk of leukemia. It is already known that high doses of radiation can lead to leukemia, according to Scientific American. The new study found an increased risk of dying from leukemia by looking at data from over 300,000 workers in France, the U.S. and the U.K. who were exposed to low doses of radiation.

The exact amount of low-dose radiation that may increase cancer risk is unknown, the authors say. The researchers also noted that exposure to radiation is much more common now than it was decades ago. Dr. Klervi Leraud of the Radiobiology and Epidemiology Department at Fontenay-aux-Roses in Cedex, France was lead author on the study. "A lot of epidemiological or radiobiological studies have brought evidence that exposure to ionizing radiation can cause cancer and leukemia," he said, according to Scientific American. Dr. Leraud told Scientific American that employees in the U.S., the U.K. or France can seek compensation if they developed leukemia after being exposed to ionizing radiation.

The study monitored radiation exposure in 308,297 nuclear energy workers for an average of 27 years, and tracked deaths caused by leukemia and lymphoma. Researchers identified 531 deaths due to leukemia and 814 due to lymphoma; about 22 percent of the workers had died by the end of the study. They also observed that certain types of leukemia increased with cumulative dose of radiation exposure.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a person is exposed to one to two milligray (mGy) of radiation during a computed tomography (CT) scan of the lumbar spine. In this study, workers were exposed to about one mGy each year, leading to a cumulative dose of 16 mGy. The authors of the study note that exposure to radiation has increased on average in the U.S., from 0.5 mGy in 1982 to 3 mGy in 2006.

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