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Science of The Total Environment


In the current radiation protection system, preventive measures and occupational exposure limits for controlling occupational exposure to ionizing radiation are based on the linear no-threshold extrapolation model. However, currently an increasing body of evidence indicates that this paradigm predicts very poorly biological responses in the low-dose exposure region. In addition, several in vitro and in vivo studies demonstrated the presence of hormetic dose response curves correlated to ionizing radiation low exposure. In this regard, it is noteworthy that also the findings of different epidemiological studies, conducted in different categories of occupationally exposed workers (e.g., healthcare, nuclear industrial and aircrew workers), observed lower rates of mortality and/or morbidity from cancer and/or other diseases in exposed workers than in unexposed ones or in the general population, then suggesting the possible occurrence of hormesis. Nevertheless, these results should be considered with caution since the identification of hormetic response in epidemiological studies is rather challenging because of a number of major limitations. In this regard, some of the most remarkable shortcomings found in epidemiological studies performed in workers exposed to ionizing radiation are represented by lack or inadequate definition of exposure doses, use of surrogates of exposure, narrow dose ranges, lack of proper control groups and poor evaluation of confounding factors. Therefore, considering the valuable role and contribution that epidemiological studies might provide to the complex risk assessment and management process, there is a clear and urgent need to overcome the aforementioned limits in order to achieve an adequate, useful and more real-life risk assessment that should also include the key concept of hormesis. Thus, in the present conceptual article we also discuss and provide possible approaches to improve the capacity of epidemiological studies to identify/define the hormetic response and consequently improve the complex process of risk assessment of ionizing radiation at low exposure doses.





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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.