How Does Radiation Cause Cancer?

Most recent answer: 01/14/2016

Q:
How radiation creates cancer?
- Rohit kumar (age 21)
hyderabad,India
A:

The principal way that ionizing radiation creates cancer is fairly simple. A single photon of the radiation is absorbed by a single molecule of DNA, raising its energy enough to break chemical bonds. The bonds may then reform in the wrong way. The changed DNA incorrectly directs some cell function, so that the cell no longer responds properly to the signals that tell it to stop growing. Often it takes several of these mutations to turn a cell into a fully malignant cancer cell.

Here's a review article that discusses the process much more thoroughly:  http://carcin.oxfordjournals.org/content/21/3/397.full.

There has been much speculation about cancer-causing effects of lower frequency non-ionizing radiation (microwaves, etc.) for which single photons don't have enough energy to cause these chemical changes.  The main mechanism for radiation causing cancer is thus ruled out for non-ionizing radiation. The evidence for other, more complicated effects is very weak. (http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/radiationexposureandcancer/radiofrequency-radiation)

Mike W.


(published on 01/14/2016)

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