Background Ionizing Radiation and the Risk of Childhood Cancer: A Census-Based Nationwide Cohort Study

Spycher, Ben D; Lupatsch, Judith E; Zwahlen, Marcel; Röösli, Martin; Niggli, Felix; Grotzer, Michael A; Rischewski, Johannes; Egger, Matthias; Kuehni, Claudia E (2015). Background Ionizing Radiation and the Risk of Childhood Cancer: A Census-Based Nationwide Cohort Study. Environmental health perspectives, 123(6), pp. 622-628. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences 10.1289/ehp.1408548

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BACKGROUND Exposure to medium or high doses of ionizing radiation is a known risk factor for cancer in children. The extent to which low dose radiation from natural sources contributes to the risk of childhood cancer remains unclear. OBJECTIVES In a nationwide census-based cohort study, we investigated whether the incidence of childhood cancer was associated with background radiation from terrestrial gamma and cosmic rays. METHODS Children aged <16 years in the Swiss National Censuses in 1990 and 2000 were included. The follow-up period lasted until 2008 and incident cancer cases were identified from the Swiss Childhood Cancer Registry. A radiation model was used to predict dose rates from terrestrial and cosmic radiation at locations of residence. Cox regression models were used to assess associations between cancer risk and dose rates and cumulative dose since birth. RESULTS Among 2,093,660 children included at census, 1,782 incident cases of cancer were identified including 530 with leukemia, 328 with lymphoma, and 423 with a tumor of the central nervous system (CNS). Hazard ratios for each mSv increase in cumulative dose of external radiation were 1.03 (95% CI: 1.01, 1.05) for any cancer, 1.04 (1.00, 1.08) for leukemia, 1.01 (0.96, 1.05) for lymphoma, and 1.04 (1.00, 1.08) for CNS tumors. Adjustment for a range of potential confounders had little effect on the results. CONCLUSIONS Our study suggests that background radiation may contribute to the risk of cancer in children including leukemia and CNS tumors.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Pre-clinic Human Medicine > Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine

UniBE Contributor:

Spycher, Ben; Lupatsch, Judith; Zwahlen, Marcel; Egger, Matthias and Kühni, Claudia


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




National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences




Doris Kopp Heim

Date Deposited:

13 Mar 2015 10:01

Last Modified:

05 Aug 2015 10:20

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:





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