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J Radiol Prot. 2003 Jun;23(2):173-81.

Genomic instability and radiation.

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Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Genomic instability is a hallmark of cancer cells, and is thought to be involved in the process of carcinogenesis. Indeed, a number of rare genetic disorders associated with a predisposition to cancer are characterised by genomic instability occurring in somatic cells. Of particular interest is the observation that transmissible instability can be induced in somatic cells from normal individuals by exposure to ionising radiation, leading to a persistent enhancement in the rate at which mutations and chromosomal aberrations arise in the progeny of the irradiated cells after many generations of replication. If such induced instability is involved in radiation carcinogenesis, it would imply that the initial carcinogenic event may not be a rare mutation occurring in a specific gene or set of genes. Rather, radiation may induce a process of instability in many cells in a population, enhancing the rate at which the multiple gene mutations necessary for the development of cancer may arise in a given cell lineage. Furthermore, radiation could act at any stage in the development of cancer by facilitating the accumulation of the remaining genetic events required to produce a fully malignant tumour. The experimental evidence for such induced instability is reviewed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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