Volume 25, Issue 4 (October 1980)
Risk of Cancer Subsequent to Low-Dose Radiation
Prominent among media items related to the Three Mile Island episode were prophecies of future cancers. The credibility of some of these estimates are discussed. The average person has been exposed by the age of 50 to 2.5 rad (0.025 Gy) from natural background. We define low doses as under 25 rad (0.25 Gy). The most heavily exposed members of the general population during the Three Mile Island event received 83 mrad (0.83 mGy). Those exposed to 2500 mrad (25 mGy) would show no pathologically recognizable effects of radiation though there is evidence that chromosomal damage may occur with doses about 1 rad (0.01 Gy). An official stated among the consequences of the Three Mile Island accident that two additional cancer deaths would result. No epidemiologist could detect such an increase in the population at risk. It has been generally agreed that the linear hypothesis is useful for determining protection standards, not prognosis. Objective criteria for pathologic diagnosis of cause-effect relations are presented.