Current lung cancer risk estimates after exposure to low-linear energy transfer radiation such as X rays are based on studies of people exposed to such radiation at high dose rates, for example the atomic bomb survivors. Radiobiology and animal experiments suggest that risks from exposure at low to moderate dose rates, for example medical diagnostic procedures, may be overestimated by such risk models, but data for humans to examine this issue are limited. In this paper we report on lung cancer mortality between 1950 and 1987 in a cohort of 64,172 Canadian tuberculosis patients, of whom 39% were exposed to highly fractionated multiple chest fluoroscopies leading to a mean lung radiation dose of 1.02 Sv received at moderate dose rates. These data have been used to estimate the excess relative risk per sievert of lung cancer mortality, and this is compared directly to estimates derived from 75,991 atomic bomb survivors. Based on 1,178 lung cancer deaths in the fluoroscopy study, there was no evidence of any positive association between risk and dose, with the relative risk at 1 Sv being 1.00 (95% confidence interval 0.94, 1.07), which contrasts with that based on the atomic bomb survivors, 1.60 (1.27, 1.99). The difference in effect between the two studies almost certainly did not arise by chance (P = 0.0001). This study provides strong support from data for humans for a substantial fractionation/dose-rate effect for low-linear energy transfer radiation and lung cancer risk. This implies that lung cancer risk from exposures to such radiation at present-day dose rates is likely to be lower than would be predicted by current radiation risk models based on studies of high-dose-rate exposures.

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