, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 393-401

Skin tumor risk among atomic-bomb survivors in Japan

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Objectives: Elevated risks of skin cancer following high doses of ionizing radiation have long been known. Recent reports on atomic-bomb survivors indicate that nonmelanoma skin cancer can be induced at low to medium doses. We studied atomic-bomb survivors to determine the effects of radiation on specific histologic types of skin cancer and to describe the dose-response relationship.

Methods: Cases of melanoma, nonmelanoma skin cancers, and Bowen's disease were ascertained between 1958 and 1987 for the 80,000 cohort members through the population-based Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Japan) tumor registries augmented by searches of other records.

Results: An excess of basal cell carcinoma (n=80), with some suggestion of a non-linear dose-response, was observed. The excess risk decreased markedly as age at exposure increased, and there was no evidence for an interaction between ionizing and ultraviolet radiation. No dose-response was found for squamous cell carcinoma (n=69). The excess relative risk point-estimates were large, but statistically nonsignificant for both melanoma (n=10) and Bowen's disease (n=26).

Conclusions: The basal layer of the epidermis appears to be quite sensitive to radiation carcinogenesis, particularly at a young age. The suprabasal layer seems to be more resistant, as shown by the lack of an association for squamous cell carcinomas.