From Muller to mechanism: How LNT became the default model for cancer risk assessment.

Research paper by Edward J EJ Calabrese

Indexed on: 31 May '18Published on: 31 May '18Published in: Environmental Pollution


This paper summarizes the historical and scientific foundations of the Linear No-Threshold (LNT) cancer risk assessment model. The story of cancer risk assessment is an extraordinary one as it was based on an initial incorrect gene mutation interpretation of Muller, the application of this incorrect assumption in the derivation of the LNT single-hit model, and a series of actions by leading radiation geneticists during the 1946-1956 period, including a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation (BEAR) I Genetics Panel (Anonymous, 1956), to sustain the LNT belief via a series of deliberate obfuscations, deceptions and misrepresentations that provided the basis of modern cancer risk assessment policy and practices. The reaffirming of the LNT model by a subsequent and highly influential NAS Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) I Committee (NAS/NRC, 1972) using mouse data has now been found to be inappropriate based on the discovery of a significant documented error in the historical control group that led to incorrect estimations of risk in the low dose zone. Correction of this error by the original scientists and the application of the adjusted/corrected data back to the BEIR I (NAS/NRC, 1972) report indicates that the data would have supported a threshold rather than the LNT model. Thus, cancer risk assessment has a poorly appreciated, complex and seriously flawed history that has undermined policies and practices of regulatory agencies in the U.S. and worldwide to the present time. Copyright © 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.