, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 177-185
Date: 24 Oct 2009

Radon and risk of death from cancer and cardiovascular diseases in the German uranium miners cohort study: follow-up 1946–2003

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Data from the German uranium miners cohort study were analyzed to investigate the radon-related risk of mortality from cancer and cardiovascular diseases. The Wismut cohort includes 58,987 men who were employed for at least 6 months from 1946 to 1989 at the former Wismut uranium mining company in Eastern Germany. By the end of 2003, a total of 3,016 lung cancer deaths, 3,355 deaths from extrapulmonary cancers, 5,141 deaths from heart diseases and 1,742 deaths from cerebrovascular diseases were observed. Although a number of studies have already been published on various endpoints in the Wismut cohort, the aim of the present analyses is to provide a direct comparison of the magnitude of radon-related risk for different cancer sites and cardiovascular diseases using the same data set, the same follow-up period and the same statistical methods. A specific focus on a group of cancers of the extrathoracic airways is also made here, due to the assumed high organ doses from absorbed radon progeny. Internal Poisson regression was used to estimate the excess relative risk (ERR) per unit of cumulative exposure to radon in working level months (WLM) and its 95% confidence limits (CI). There was a statistically significant increase in the risk of lung cancer with increasing radon exposure (ERR/WLM = 0.19%; 95% CI: 0.17%; 0.22%). A smaller, but also statistically significant excess was found for cancers of the extrathoracic airways and trachea (ERR/WLM = 0.062%; 95% CI: 0.002%; 0.121%). Most of the remaining nonrespiratory cancer sites showed a positive relationship with increasing radon exposure, which, however, did not reach statistical significance. No increase in risk was noted for coronary heart diseases (ERR/WLM = 0.0003%) and cerebrovascular diseases (ERR/WLM = 0.001%). The present data provide clear evidence of an increased radon-related risk of death from lung cancer, some evidence for an increased radon-related risk of death from cancers of the extrathoracic airways and some other extrapulmonary cancers, and no evidence for mortality from cardiovascular diseases. These findings are consistent with the results of other miner studies and dosimetric calculations for radon-related organ doses.

This paper is based on a presentation given at the International Conference on Late Health Effects of Ionizing Radiation, 4–6 May 2009, Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA.