Our team of medical experts are ready to help

Your questions answered

Shawna asked...

What kinds of radiation cause cancer?

Tags: Cancer

What kinds of radiation cause cancer? What treatments are available for this kind of cancer? Is there any research being undergone on this topic?

  • mother-thermometer-doctor-at-hand

    Do you need to see a GP quickly?


    Would you like to speak with a doctor by video or phone at a time that suits you?

    Our Doctor@Hand service, delivered by Doctor Care Anywhere, offers a doctor appointment by video or phone at a time that suits you.

The answer

Cancer occurs when the cell structure is changed through biological, chemical and physical means and, causes a cell to multiply in an abnormal way, that then causes a malignant tumour to form.

Physical carcinogens include elements such as ultra- violet and ionizing radiation.

Chemical carcinogens include elements such as asbestos, tobacco components and other toxins.

Biological carcinogens include reactions to infections, viruses and parasites.

A carcinogen is a substance that is capable of causing changes in living tissue.

You ask about the types of radiation that can cause cancer, and this is a broad topic so we will give you the most common types of radiation that can cause changes that could potentially lead to cancer.

Natural Radiation-

This is radiation which is in the atmosphere of the earth and is present in our surroundings.

This radiation is present in the form of ionizing and non-iodizing forms such as ultra-violet light, microwaves, electric power systems and radio frequency transmissions.

The radiation released is minimal and usually takes prolonged life-long exposure to affect the body and cause cancer.

The radiation affects the body by altering the molecules in the cell structure allowing mutations to occur.

Types of cancer which could occur as a result of this are your blood cancers such as leukaemia.

Radon is a natural gas found in soil and prolonged exposure to this can lead to lung cancer.

Ultra- violet radiation sources such as the sun or tanning beds are known to increase the risk of skin cancer.

Medical radiation e.g Gamma and X-Rays-

Exposure to this type of radiation again can cause cell changes but the benefits of using this for medical treatment far outweighs the risks.

It is advised that x-rays and other types of scanning are kept to a minimum and only performed when clinically necessary.

Radiation is used for cancer treatment and is of a higher dose than natural exposure doses but are kept to a minimum and directed at the cancer source as opposed to general administration.

There is a slight increase in the risk of radiation induced cancer following radiation treatment for cancer.

It is very rare for cancer to be caused by radiation and is a seen as a risk where prolonged exposure from activities such as working with known high risk elements are undertaken and in these circumstances precautions should be undertaken and regularly reviewed by appropriate organisations.

The World Health organisation encourages us to reduce our cancer risks by:

  • Minimising our exposure to radiation by considering how we live.
  • Reducing the chemicals and pollutants we use in industry and food production.
  • Reducing the amount we expose ourselves to chemicals, pollutants and the sun in the atmosphere.
  • Improving our lifestyle, in order to reduce our risk to cancer such as exercising, monitoring our weight, stopping smoking and the way we recycle goods.

Treatment of cancers will vary depending on the type and severity of cancer but include radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.

For research articles we suggest you look at some of the following sites for information:

World Health Organisation

Cancer Research UK

Cancer NHS Factsheet – look up radiation under the conditions page.


We hope the above information helps.

Answered by the Health at Hand nurses