At present, direct data on risk from protracted or fractionated radiation exposure at low dose rates have been limited largely to studies of populations exposed to low cumulative doses with resulting low statistical power. We evaluated the cancer risks associated with protracted exposure to external whole-body gamma radiation at high cumulative doses (the average dose is 0.8 Gy and the highest doses exceed 10 Gy) in Russian nuclear workers. Cancer deaths in a cohort of about 21,500 nuclear workers who began working at the Mayak complex between 1948 and 1972 were ascertained from death certificates and autopsy reports with follow-up through December 1997. Excess relative risk models were used to estimate solid cancer and leukemia risks associated with external gamma-radiation dose with adjustment for effects of plutonium exposures. Both solid cancer and leukemia death rates increased significantly with increasing gamma-ray dose (P
At Branch No. 1 of the Russian State Research Center "Biophysics Institute", a registry has been created of workers at the "Mayak" Production Association, the first nuclear complex in Russia. This registry includes 18,830 persons hired at Mayak's nuclear reactors and radiochemical and plutonium production plant between 1948 and 1972. Twenty-five percent of these workers are women. As of December 31, 1994, the vital status is known for approximately 90% of the cohort members. A total of 5,118 persons have died. The cause for 97% of total deaths has been ascertained. The cohort members were exposed to both external gamma radiation and internal radiation from incorporated plutonium. The plutonium body burden has been measured in 30% of the cohort members with potential for plutonium exposure. External gamma-ray doses were in the range from tenths of milligrays to about 10 Gy, and plutonium body burdens were up to about 260 kBq. In view of the nature of the Mayak worker cohort, it has the potential to provide reasonably precise, quantitative estimates of the long-term health effects associated with chronic low-dose-rate exposure to external gamma radiation as well as internal radiation from plutonium. However, a number of issues must be addressed before credible risk estimates can be obtained from this cohort. These issues include the development of an appropriate internal comparison group and/or external rates and separating of the effects of internal and external exposures on risk estimates.