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University of Colorado Denver

Environmental Health and Safety, University of Colorado Denver

Radiation Safety Training

Health Effects of Ionizing Radiation

Review of Biological Effects

When ionizing radiation interacts with a cell, it may directly damage the DNA or it may lead to the formation of free-radicals. A free radical is an atom or molecule that has a single unpaired electron in one orbit. Free radicals are highly reactive and create damage through chemical reactions in the cell. Changes in the cell, whether from a direct or indirect reaction, can leave the cell in one of three states, changed, dead, or the cell can repair itself and be unaffected. For more information on this subject, please review Module 4 of the Radiation Safety Training Manual, "Biological Effects of Radiation".

Stochastic and Non-Stochastic (Deterministic) Risk

Stochastic effects are those in which the probability of an effect occurring within a population increases with dose, without threshold. In other words, there does not have to be a minimum dose to cause an effect. Carcinogenic (cancer) and genetic (inherited) effects are examples of stochastic effects. Non-Stochastic or deterministic effects are those in which the severity of the effect varies with the dose. For these types of effects, a threshold dose may exist. Examples of such effects are cataracts, skin ulcerations or burns, depletion of blood forming cells in bone marrow, and impairment of fertility.

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