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N Engl J Med. 1989 Nov 9;321(19):1281-4.

The risk of breast cancer after irradiation of the thymus in infancy.

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Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, N.Y. 14642.


It is well established that exposure to ionizing radiation during or after puberty increases a woman's risk for breast cancer, but it is less clear whether exposure to ionizing radiation very early in life is also carcinogenic. We studied the incidence of breast cancer prospectively in a cohort of 1201 women who received x-ray treatment in infancy for an enlarged thymus gland and in their 2469 nonirradiated sisters. After an average of 36 years of follow-up, there were 22 breast cancers in the irradiated group and 12 among their sisters, yielding an adjusted rate ratio of 3.6 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.8 to 7.3). The estimated mean absorbed dose of radiation to the breast was 0.69 Gy. The first breast cancer was diagnosed 28 years after irradiation. The dose-response relation was linear (P less than 0.0001), with a relative risk of 3.48 for 1 Gy of radiation (95 percent confidence interval, 2.1 to 6.2) and an additive excess risk of 5.7 per 10(4) person-years per gray (95 percent confidence interval, 2.9 to 9.5). We conclude that exposure of the female breast to ionizing radiation in infancy increases the risk of breast cancer later in life.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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