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Cancer more likely in older workers.

The ages at which workers are exposed to low doses of ionizing radiation apparently make a difference in whether they will develop cancer, according to a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study. Scientists investigated deaths among employees at the Department of Energy's Hanford Site in Richland, Wash., which produced material for atomic weapons, including the first plutonium bombs dropped during World War II.

Researchers say the largest risk from older-age exposures is for lung cancer. "Findings of radiation-related cancer risks among nuclear workers have been questioned in the past by other scientists who concluded that most occupational exposures were too low to cause a detectable increase in cancer rates," states Steven B. Wing, associate professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health. "Predictions based on studies of survivors of the atomic bombings in Japan during the war suggested that cancer risks from radiation exposures of Hartford workers would be too small to detect."

The UNC study evaluated risks by using measurements of workers' exposures recorded on radiation-sensitive badges worn on the job. Cancers were identified through death records. Researchers noted 8,153 deaths, including 2,265 from cancer among 26,389 workers hired between 1944 and 1978 and followed through 1994.

"We found no relationship between radiation doses and deaths from causes other than cancer, primarily heart disease and stroke," Wing concludes. "Additionally, radiation doses received at younger ages were not associated with cancer deaths. However, readings on radiation badges worn by workers when they were ages 55 and above were associated with death rates for cancer, and particularly for lung cancer.

"Findings of increased cancer associated with low-level radiation exposures among nuclear workers are important for a number of reasons. Among the considerations are common exposures to radiation from medical procedures, the push for new nuclear power plants, and debates over whether to release radioactively contaminated metals into the consumer recycled-metal market. Studies of cancer following long-term exposure to low-level ionizing radiation are especially relevant to occupational and environmental protection standards and to compensation programs for radiation-exposed workers and veterans."
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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