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Non-targeted effects and radiation-induced carcinogenesis: a review

Abstract of the journal article published in Journal of Radiological Protection, February 2016.

Authors: Julie J Burtt1, Patsy A Thompson1 and Robert M Lafrenie2

1 Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
2 Northeast Cancer Centre


Exposure to ionizing radiation is associated with an increased risk of developing some cancers. Recent studies have shown that cells that have not been directly hit by ionizing radiation suffer radiation-like effects, called non-targeted effects. This paper reviews the evidence for a possible role for non-targeted effects in cancer development after exposure to radiation. The current cancer risk model states that any increase in radiation exposure proportionately increases the risk of cancer. However, this model does not specifically address the contribution from non-targeted effects (e.g., bystander effects, genomic instability).

This study concluded that although there is no strong epidemiological evidence of excess cancers directly caused by non-targeted effects from radiation exposure, the studies reviewed in the article provide a link between the bystander effect and genetic instability in the development of cancers caused by radiation.

The evidence presented in this review does not warrant a change from current radiation protection practices, but does show that additional work is required to determine the extent to which non-targeted effects contribute to cancers that can be attributed to radiation and not some other factor (or factors).

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