Uncertainties in estimating health risks associated with exposure to ionising radiation.

R. Julian Preston*, John D. Boice, A. Bertrand Brill, Ranajit Chakraborty, Rory Conolly, F. Owen Hoffman, Richard W. Hornung, David C. Kocher, Charles E. Land, Roy E. Shore, Gayle E. Woloschak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


The information for the present discussion on the uncertainties associated with estimation of radiation risks and probability of disease causation was assembled for the recently published NCRP Report No. 171 on this topic. This memorandum provides a timely overview of the topic, given that quantitative uncertainty analysis is the state of the art in health risk assessment and given its potential importance to developments in radiation protection. Over the past decade the increasing volume of epidemiology data and the supporting radiobiology findings have aided in the reduction of uncertainty in the risk estimates derived. However, it is equally apparent that there remain significant uncertainties related to dose assessment, low dose and low dose-rate extrapolation approaches (e.g. the selection of an appropriate dose and dose-rate effectiveness factor), the biological effectiveness where considerations of the health effects of high-LET and lower-energy low-LET radiations are required and the transfer of risks from a population for which health effects data are available to one for which such data are not available. The impact of radiation on human health has focused in recent years on cancer, although there has been a decided increase in the data for noncancer effects together with more reliable estimates of the risk following radiation exposure, even at relatively low doses (notably for cataracts and cardiovascular disease). New approaches for the estimation of hereditary risk have been developed with the use of human data whenever feasible, although the current estimates of heritable radiation effects still are based on mouse data because of an absence of effects in human studies. Uncertainties associated with estimation of these different types of health effects are discussed in a qualitative and semi-quantitative manner as appropriate. The way forward would seem to require additional epidemiological studies, especially studies of low dose and low dose-rate occupational and perhaps environmental exposures and for exposures to x rays and high-LET radiations used in medicine. The development of models for more reliably combining the epidemiology data with experimental laboratory animal and cellular data can enhance the overall risk assessment approach by providing biologically refined data to strengthen the estimation of effects at low doses as opposed to the sole use of mathematical models of epidemiological data that are primarily driven by medium/high doses. NASA's approach to radiation protection for astronauts, although a unique occupational group, indicates the possible applicability of estimates of risk and their uncertainty in a broader context for developing recommendations on: (1) dose limits for occupational exposure and exposure of members of the public; (2) criteria to limit exposures of workers and members of the public to radon and its short-lived decay products; and (3) the dosimetric quantity (effective dose) used in radiation protection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)573-588
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of radiological protection : official journal of the Society for Radiological Protection
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Waste Management and Disposal


Dive into the research topics of 'Uncertainties in estimating health risks associated with exposure to ionising radiation.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this