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Oncology Homepage

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Risks from low-level radiation exposure
such as in a CT exam are small compared
to those of smoking, obesity and
air pollution

Low-level ionizing radiation less of a health risk than obesity: study

by John R. Fischer , Staff Reporter
A new study may promote better understanding about the health risks of low-level radiation exposure.

British researchers have found that low-level ionizing radiation exposure poses less risk to health compared to other issues, such as obesity, smoking and air pollution, while drawing up a concise perspective on the subject that can be understood by readers outside the study of medicine.

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The findings were published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“Our target audience is a civil servant, activist, journalist, worker or student who is new to the field and needs to get to grips with the terminology, see an overview of what is currently known, and understand where (and why) there is still uncertainty,” Angela McLean, a professor of mathematical biology at the University of Oxford and the lead author of the study, told HCB News.

Systematic reviews and studies of low-level ionizing radiation consist of hundreds of pages and information about appropriate low-dosage amounts from different sources that can generate confusion, according to the researchers. The findings are intended to construct a concise restatement of the natural scientific evidence base of the field.

The study examined a range of variables, including background, low dose, acute high-dose, environmental and medical exposures; cancer mortality rates among survivors of the atomic bomb in the Japanese Life Span Study and emergency workers in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident; ill health effects of evacuations, displacement and fears from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident; studies of workers in nuclear industries exposed to radiation; and experimental studies for mechanisms of damage, and informing risk assessment.

The results showed that obesity, tobacco smoking and exposure to ambient particulate air pollution pose greater risk in shortening the years in a person’s life span, compared to low-level ionizing radiation.

McLean says that though the study is not meant to recommend changes in policy, she hopes it will create more informed discussions on the use and risks of low-level ionizing radiation.

“Our aim is to facilitate a better quality of debate,” she said.

The project was funded by the University of Oxford’s Oxford Martin School.

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