While the association between exposure to ionizing radiation and cancer is well established, its association with schizophrenia is unclear. The aim of our study was to assess risk of schizophrenia after childhood exposure to ionizing radiation to the head (mean dose: 1.5 Gy). The study population included an exposed group of 10,834 individuals irradiated during childhood for treatment of tinea capitis in the 1950s and two unexposed comparison groups of 5392 siblings and 10,834 subjects derived from the National Population Registry individually matched to the exposed group by age, sex (when possible), country of birth, and year of immigration to Israel. These groups were followed for a median 46 years for diagnosis of schizophrenia updated to December 2002. The Cox proportional hazards model stratified by matched sets was used to compare the risk of schizophrenia between the groups. Based on 1,217,531 person-years of follow-up, 451 cases were identified. No statistically significant association was found between radiation exposure and schizophrenia for the total group (hazard ratio per 1 Gy to the brain: 1.05, 95% confidence interval: 0.93–1.18) or within subgroups of sex, dose categories or latent period. When comparing a subgroup of subjects irradiated under 5 years of age with the matched unexposed group, the estimated hazard ratio reached 1.18 (95% confidence interval: 0.96–1.44; P = 0.1). The results of our analysis do not support an association between exposure to ionizing radiation and risk of schizophrenia. More research on possible effects of early exposure to ionizing radiation on schizophrenia specifically and brain tissue in general is needed.

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