Structural chromosome aberrations were evaluated in peripheral blood samples obtained from three populations exposed to partial-body irradiation. These included 143 persons who received radiotherapy for enlarged thymus glands during infancy and 50 sibling controls; 79 persons irradiated for enlarged tonsils and 81 persons surgically treated for the same condition during childhood; and 77 women frequently exposed as young adults to fluoroscopic chest X rays during lung collapse treatment for tuberculosis (TB) and 66 women of similar ages treated for TB with other therapies. Radiation exposures occurred 30 and more years before blood was drawn. Doses to active bone marrow averaged over the entire body were 21, 6, and 14 cGy for the exposed thymic, tonsil, and TB subjects, respectively. Two hundred metaphases were scored for each subject, and the frequencies of symmetrical (stable) and asymmetrical (unstable) chromosome aberrations were quantified in 97,200 metaphases. Cells with stable aberrations were detected with greater frequency in the irradiated subjects compared with nonirradiated subjects in all three populations, and an overall test for an association between stable aberrations and partial-body ionizing radiation was highly significant (P < 0.001). We found no evidence that radiation-induced aberrations varied by age at exposure. These data show that exposure of children or young adults to partial-body fractionated radiation can result in detectable increased frequencies of stable chromosome aberrations in circulating lymphocytes 30 years later, and that these aberrations appear to be informative as biological markers of population exposure.

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