Publications : 2019

Boice JD Jr, Ellis ED, Golden AP, Zablotska LB, Mumma MT, Cohen SS. 2019. Sex-specific lung cancer risk among radiation workers in the Million Person Study and TB-fluoroscopy patients. Int J Radiat Biol Jan 7:1–36.


Background: The study of Japanese atomic bomb survivors, exposed briefly to radiation, finds the risk of radiation-induced lung cancer to be nearly three times greater for women than for men. Because protection standards for astronauts are based on individual lifetime risk projections, this sex-specific difference limits the time women can spend in space. Populations exposed to chronic or fractionated radiation were evaluated to learn whether similar differences exist when exposures occur gradually over years.

Methods and materials: Five occupational cohorts within the Million Person Study of Low-Dose Health Effects (MPS) and a Canadian Fluoroscopy Cohort Study (CFCS) of tuberculosis patients who underwent frequent chest fluoroscopic examinations are evaluated. Included are male and female workers at the Mound nuclear facility, nuclear power plants (NPP), and industrial radiographers (IR). Workers at the Mallinckrodt Chemical Works and military participants at aboveground nuclear weapons tests provide information on the risk among males. Cox proportional hazards and Poisson regression models were used to estimate sex-specific radiation risks for lung cancer and to compare any differences.

Results: Overall, 15,065 lung cancers occurred among the 443,684 subjects studied: 50,111 women and 395,573 men. The mean cumulative dose to the lung was 166.3 mGy (range 6 to 1,055 mGy) with the highest among the TB-fluoroscopy patients (mean 1,055 mGy). Mean lung dose for women in the worker cohorts was generally 4 times lower than for men. Of the 12 estimates of radiation-related risk, only one, for male IRs, showed a significant elevation (ERR 0.09; 95% CI 0.02–0.16, at 100 mGy). In contrast, the dose response for male NPP workers was negative (ERR −0.05; 95% CI −0.10, 0.01, at 100 mGy). Combined, these two cohorts provided little evidence for a radiation effect among males (ERR 0.01; 95% CI −0.04, 0.06, at 100 mGy). There was no significant dose-response among females within any cohort. There was no difference in the sex-specific estimates of lung cancer risk.

Conclusions: There was little evidence that chronic or fractionated exposures increased the risk of lung cancer. There were no differences in the risks of lung cancer between men and women. However, the sex-specific analyses are limited because of small numbers of women and relatively low doses. A more definitive study is ongoing of medical radiation workers which include 85,000 women and 85,000 men (overall mean dose 82 mGy, max 1,140 mGy). Additional understanding will come from the ongoing follow-up of the CFCS.