Research and analysis

Ionising radiation exposure: evidence for transgenerational effects

This document reviews the health effects in offspring of human populations exposed to radiotherapy and some groups exposed to chemotherapy.


Evidence for transgenerational effects following exposure to ionising radiation

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A subgroup of the Health Protection Agency Advisory Group on Ionising Radiation reviewed the health effects in offspring of human populations exposed as a result of radiotherapy and some groups exposed to chemotherapy.

The risks in offspring of other radiation-exposed groups, in particular those of the Japanese atomic bomb survivors and occupationally and environmentally exposed groups, were also assessed. Experimental findings were briefly surveyed.

Animal and cellular studies tend to suggest that the irradiation of males, at least at high doses, can lead to observable effects (including both genetic and epigenetic) in the somatic cells of their offspring over several generations that are not attributable to the inheritance of a simple mutation through the parental germ line. However, studies of disease in the offspring of irradiated humans have not identified any effects on health.

The available evidence therefore suggested that human health has not been significantly affected by transgenerational effects of radiation. It is possible that transgenerational effects are restricted to relatively short times post-exposure and in humans conception at short times after exposure is likely to be rare.

Published 1 June 2013