Little, M. P., Tawn, E. J., Tzoulaki, I., Wakeford, R., Hildebrandt, G., Paris, F., Tapio, S. and Elliott, P. A Systematic Review of Epidemiological Associations Between Low and Moderate Doses of Ionizing Radiation and Late Cardiovascular Effects, and Their Possible Mechanisms. Radiat. Res. 169, 99–109 (2008).
The link between high doses of ionizing radiation and damage to the heart and coronary arteries is established. In this paper, we systematically review the epidemiological evidence for associations between low and moderate doses (<5 Gy) of ionizing radiation and late-occurring cardiovascular disease. Risks per unit dose in epidemiological studies vary over at least two orders of magnitude, possibly a result of confounding factors. An examination of possible biological mechanisms indicates that the most likely causative effect of radiation exposure is damage to endothelial cells and subsequent induction of an inflammatory response, although it seems unlikely that this would extend to low-dose and low-dose-rate exposure. However, a role for somatic mutation has been proposed that would indicate a stochastic effect. In the absence of a convincing mechanistic explanation of epidemiological evidence that is less than persuasive at present, a cause-and-effect interpretation of the reported statistical associations cannot be reliably inferred, although neither can it be reliably excluded. Further epidemiological and biological evidence will allow a firmer conclusion to be drawn.