Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Cancer and non-cancer brain and eye effects of chronic low-dose ionizing radiation exposure

Eugenio Picano1*, Eliseo Vano2, Luciano Domenici3, Matteo Bottai4 and Isabelle Thierry-Chef5

Author Affiliations

1 Institute Clinical Physiology of the National Research Council CNR, 56124, Pisa, Italy

2 San Carlos University Hospital, Complutense University, Medical Physics Service, Madrid, Spain

3 Neuroscience Institute of the National Research Council, CNR, Pisa, and Scienze e Tecnologie Biomediche Department, L'Aquila University, Pisa, Italy

4 Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Karolinska, Sweden

5 Environment and Radiation, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France

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BMC Cancer 2012, 12:157  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-12-157

Published: 27 April 2012



According to a fundamental law of radiobiology (“Law of Bergonié and Tribondeau”, 1906), the brain is a paradigm of a highly differentiated organ with low mitotic activity, and is thus radio-resistant. This assumption has been challenged by recent evidence discussed in the present review.


Ionizing radiation is an established environmental cause of brain cancer. Although direct evidence is lacking in contemporary fluoroscopy due to obvious sample size limitation, limited follow-up time and lack of focused research, anecdotal reports of clusters have appeared in the literature, raising the suspicion that brain cancer may be a professional disease of interventional cardiologists. In addition, although terminally differentiated neurons have reduced or mild proliferative capacity, and are therefore not regarded as critical radiation targets, adult neurogenesis occurs in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus and the olfactory bulb, and is important for mood, learning/memory and normal olfactory function, whose impairment is a recognized early biomarker of neurodegenerative diseases. The head doses involved in radiotherapy are high, usually above 2 Sv, whereas the low-dose range of professional exposure typically involves lifetime cumulative whole-body exposure in the low-dose range of < 200 mSv, but with head exposure which may (in absence of protection) arrive at a head equivalent dose of 1 to 3 Sv after a professional lifetime (corresponding to a brain equivalent dose around 500 mSv).


At this point, a systematic assessment of brain (cancer and non-cancer) effects of chronic low-dose radiation exposure in interventional cardiologists and staff is needed.

Brain cancer; Cognitive effects; Interventional cardiologist; Radiation exposure; Risk