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Greater sensitivity to ionizing radiation at older age: follow-up of workers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory through 1990.

Richardson-D; Wing-S
Int J Epidemiol 1999 Jun; 28(3):428-436
BACKGROUND: Workers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) were individually monitored for whole body exposure to ionizing radiation. Studies of these workers may provide valuable information about the long-term effects of occupational exposure to ionizing radiation. Since biological changes occur as adults age, a potentially important question in these investigations is whether sensitivity to the carcinogenic effects of ionizing radiation changes with age at exposure. METHODS: Vital status and cause of death were ascertained through 1990 for 8307 white males hired at ORNL from 1943 through 1972. Associations between whole body ionizing radiation dose and all-cancer mortality were quantified using life table regression methods for time dependent exposures. Analyses focused of differences in radiation-cancer associations with age at exposure. Length of follow-up, period of hire, and age at risk were considered as alternative explanations for effects of age at exposure. RESULTS: Cumulative radiation dose was associated with a 1.8% (SE = 0.9) increase in all-cancer mortality per 10 mSv, assuming a 10-year lag between exposure and mortality. However, radiation doses received at older ages exhibited larger associations with cancer mortality than doses received at younger ages. Doses received after age 45 were associated with a 5.9% (SE = 1.7) increase in cancer mortality per 10 mSv, adjusted for doses received before age 45. Dose-response associations between cancer mortality and doses received after age 45 appeared consistent across periods of follow-up, periods of hire, and ages at risk. CONCLUSIONS: Findings suggest that sensitivity to the carcinogenic effects of ionizing radiation may increase with older ages at exposure. More attention should be given to the role of age at exposure in studies of the health effects of low-level exposure to ionizing radiation, and to efforts to limit exposure to ionizing radiation.
Epidemiology; Computer-models; Statistical-analysis; Mathematical-models; Ionizing-radiation; Age-factors; Cancer-rates; Dose-response
Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 27599-8050
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International Journal of Epidemiology
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University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina