External background ionizing radiation and childhood cancer: Update of a nationwide cohort analysis.

Mazzei-Abba, Antonella; Folly, Christophe L.; Kreis, Christian; Ammann, Roland; Adam, Cécile; Brack, Eva; Egger, Matthias; Kuehni, Claudia E.; Spycher, Ben D. (2021). External background ionizing radiation and childhood cancer: Update of a nationwide cohort analysis. Journal of environmental radioactivity, 238-239, p. 106734. Elsevier 10.1016/j.jenvrad.2021.106734

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Exposure to high doses of ionizing radiation is known to cause cancer. Exposure during childhood is associated with a greater excess relative risk for leukemia and tumors of the central nervous system (CNS) than exposure in later life. Cancer risks associated with low-dose exposure (<100 mSv) are uncertain. We previously investigated the association between the incidence of childhood cancer and levels of exposure to external background radiation from terrestrial gamma and cosmic rays in Switzerland using data from a nationwide census-based cohort study. Here, we provide an update of that study using an extended follow-up period and an improved exposure model.


We included all children 0-15 years of age registered in the Swiss national censuses 1990, 2000, and 2010-2015. We identified incident cancer cases during 1990-2016 using probabilistic record linkage with the Swiss Childhood Cancer Registry. Exposure to terrestrial and cosmic radiation at children's place of residence was estimated using geographic exposure models based on aerial spectrometric gamma-ray measurements. We estimated and included the contribution from 137Cs deposition after the Chernobyl accident. We created a nested case-control sample and fitted conditional logistic regression models adjusting for sex, year of birth, neighborhood socioeconomic position, and modelled outdoor NO2 concentration. We also estimated the population attributable fraction for childhood cancer due to external background radiation.


We included 3,401,113 children and identified 3,137 incident cases of cancer, including 951 leukemia, 495 lymphoma, and 701 CNS tumor cases. Median follow-up in the cohort was 6.0 years (interquartile range: 4.3-10.1) and median cumulative exposure since birth was 8.2 mSv (range: 0-31.2). Hazard ratios per 1 mSv increase in cumulative dose of external background radiation were 1.04 (95% CI: 1.01-1.06) for all cancers combined, 1.06 (1.01-1.10) for leukemia, 1.03 (0.98-1.08) for lymphoma, and 1.06 (1.01-1.11) for CNS tumors. Adjustment for potential confounders had little effect on the results. Based on these results, the estimated population attributable fraction for leukemia and CNS tumors due to external background radiation was 32% (7-49%) and 34% (5-51%), respectively.


Our results suggest that background ionizing radiation contributes to the risk of leukemia and CNS tumors in children.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Pre-clinic Human Medicine > Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (ISPM)
04 Faculty of Medicine > Department of Gynaecology, Paediatrics and Endocrinology (DFKE) > Clinic of Paediatric Medicine

Graduate School:

Graduate School for Health Sciences (GHS)

UniBE Contributor:

Mazzei Abba, Antonella; Folly, Christophe Leopold; Kreis, Christian; Ammann, Roland; Brack, Eva Katharina; Egger, Matthias; Kühni, Claudia and Spycher, Ben


600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 360 Social problems & social services






[4] Swiss National Science Foundation ; [193] Swiss Cancer League = Krebsliga Schweiz




Doris Kopp Heim

Date Deposited:

17 Sep 2021 10:56

Last Modified:

27 Sep 2021 01:34

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Cancer in children Cosmic radiation Gamma radiation Low-dose ionizing radiation





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