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The aetiology of childhood leukaemia remains generally unknown, although exposure to moderate and high levels of ionising radiation, such as was experienced during the atomic bombings of Japan or from radiotherapy, is an established cause. Risk models based primarily upon studies of the Japanese A-bomb survivors imply that low-level exposure to ionising radiation, including to ubiquitous natural background radiation, also raises the risk of childhood leukaemia. In a recent paper (Wakeford et al 2009 Leukaemia 23 770-6) we estimated the proportion of childhood leukaemia incidence in Great Britain attributable to natural background radiation to be about 20%. In this paper we employ the two sets of published leukaemia risk models used previously, but use recently published revised estimates of natural background radiation doses received by the red bone marrow of British children to update the previous results. Using the newer dosimetry we calculate that the best estimate of the proportion of cases of childhood leukaemia in Great Britain predicted to be attributable to this source of exposure is 15-20%, although the uncertainty associated with certain stages in the calculation (e.g. the nature of the transfer of risk between populations and the pertinent dose received from naturally occurring alpha-particle-emitting radionuclides) is significant. The slightly lower attributable proportions compared with those previously derived by Wakeford et al (Leukaemia 2009 23 770-6) are largely due to the lower doses (and in particular lower high LET doses) for the first year of life.

Original publication




Journal article


J Radiol Prot

Publication Date





467 - 482


Background Radiation, Child, Child, Preschool, Environmental Exposure, Female, Humans, Incidence, Infant, Infant, Newborn, Leukemia, Radiation-Induced, Male, Proportional Hazards Models, Radiation Dosage, Radiation Monitoring, Radiation, Ionizing, Risk Assessment, Risk Factors, United Kingdom