Although ionizing radiation induces germline mutations in animals, human studies of radiation-exposed populations have not detected an effect. We conducted a case-control study of sporadic bilateral retinoblastoma, which results from a new germline RB1 mutation, to investigate gonadal radiation exposure of parents from medical sources before their child's conception. Parents of 206 cases from nine North American institutions and 269 controls participated; fathers of 184 cases and 223 friend and relative controls and mothers of 204 cases and 260 controls provided information in telephone interviews on their medical radiation exposure. Cases provided DNA for RB1 mutation testing. Of common procedures, lower gastrointestinal (GI) series conferred the highest estimated dose to testes and ovaries. Paternal history of lower GI series was associated with increased risk of retinoblastoma in the child [matched odds ratio (OR) = 3.6, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.2-11.2, two-sided p = 0.02], as was estimated total testicular dose from all procedures combined (OR for highest dose=3.9, 95% CI = 1.2-14.4, p = 0.02). Maternal history of lower GI series was also associated with increased risk (OR = 7.6, 95% CI = 2.8-20.7, p < 0.001) as was the estimated total dose (OR for highest dose = 3.0, 95% CI = 1.4-7.0, p = 0.005). The RB1 mutation spectrum in cases of exposed parents did not differ from that of other cases. Some animal and human data support our findings of an association of gonadal radiation exposure in men and women with new germline RB1 mutation detectable in their children, although bias, confounding, and/or chance may also explain the results.
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