Science Update: Cancer clue

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A REPORT in the Lancet may hold clues to the way in which radiation causes leukaemia.

Plutonium and the radioactive decay products of radon gas emit a particular type of radiation known as alpha particles. A team of researchers from the Medical Research Council's Radiobiology Unit have shown that alpha radiation may cause damage that is not immediately apparent.

The researchers discovered that bone marrow cells which had undergone alpha irradiation did not show any apparent signs of damage. But after the cells had divided several times in the normal way, the 'daughter' cells showed aberrations and damage to the chromosomes. The report concluded that such 'chromosomal instability could produce genetic changes that may contribute to the subsequent development of leukaemia.'