There remains a lack of consensus amongst the medical and scientific communities about any cancer risk from low level radiation, particularly low-dose radiation delivered from computed tomography (CT) scans. However, the study of epigenetics may play a role in determining whether or not future trends of diseases can in fact be linked to utilization of CT, according to an article in the February issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology (JACR).
The term epigenetics refers to changes in the phenotype (appearance) or gene expression caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence. These changes may remain through cell divisions for the remainder of the cell's life and may also last for multiple generations.
"Radiation safety is, without a doubt, a large concern for practicing radiologists today," said Shella Farooki, MD, author of the article and radiologist and director of research for Columbus Radiology Corp in Columbus, OH. "However, the current focus does not account for the possibility of harm to future generations from radiation delivered today. I believe that it is equally, if not more important, to consider potential harm to the patient's offspring and their offspring's offspring," she said.
"The effects of ionizing radiation have been demonstrated in neighboring cells (non-targeted radiation), known as the bystander effect. In addition, ionizing radiation effects have been shown to span generations, resulting in heritable defects in mice. However, we need to bridge the gap between understanding the epigenome functionality and radiation exposure before assuming anything," said Farooki.