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Keywords:

  • cancer mortality;
  • occupational radiation exposure;
  • radiologic technologists

Abstract

Data are limited on the role of chronic exposure to low-dose ionizing radiation in the etiology of cancer. In a nationwide cohort of 146,022 U.S. radiologic technologists (73% female), we evaluated mortality risks in relation to work characteristics. Standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) were computed to compare mortality in the total cohort vs. the general population of the United States. Mortality risks were low for all causes (SMR = 0.76) and for all cancers (SMR = 0.82) among the radiologic technologists. We also calculated relative risks (RR) for the 90,305 technologists who responded to a baseline mailed questionnaire, using Poisson regression models, adjusted for known risk factors. Risks were higher for all cancers (RR = 1.28, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.93–1.69) and breast cancer (RR = 2.92, 95% CI = 1.22–7.00) among radiologic technologists first employed prior to 1940 compared to those first employed in 1960 or later, and risks declined with more recent calendar year of first employment (p-trend = 0.04 and 0.002, respectively), irrespective of employment duration. Risk for the combined category of acute lymphocytic, acute myeloid and chronic myeloid leukemias was increased among those first employed prior to 1950 (RR = 1.64, 95% CI = 0.42–6.31) compared to those first employed in 1950 or later. Risks rose for breast cancer (p-trend = 0.018) and for acute lymphocytic, acute myeloid and chronic myeloid leukemias (p-trend = 0.05) with increasing duration of employment as a radiologic technologist prior to 1950. The elevated mortality risks for breast cancer and for the combined group of acute lymphocytic, acute myeloid and chronic myeloid leukemias are consistent with a radiation etiology given greater occupational exposures to ionizing radiation prior to 1950 than in more recent times. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.