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Childhood leukaemia in areas with different radon levels: a spatial and temporal analysis using GIS


OBJECTIVES To evaluate the relation between exposure to ground radon levels and leukaemia among children using existing population and disease registers.

DESIGN Ecological correlation study.

SETTING The county of Östergötland in Sweden.

METHODS Every child born in the county between 1979 and 1992 was mapped to the property centroid coordinates by linking addresses in the population and property registers. Population maps were overlaid with radon maps and exposure at birth and each subsequent year was quantified as high, normal, low or unknown. This was analysed with data from the tumour registry. Standardised mortality ratios (SMRs) were calculated using the age and sex specific rates for Sweden for the year 1995.

RESULTS 90 malignancies occurred among 53 146 children (498 887 person years) who formed the study population. SMRs for acute lymphatic leukaemia (ALL) among children born in high, normal and low risk areas were 1.43, 1.17 and 0.25 respectively. The relative risk for the normal risk group and high risk group as compared with the low risk group was 4.64 (95% CI 1.29, 28.26) and 5.67 (95% CI 1.06, 42.27). The association between ALL and continued residence at normal or high risk areas showed a similar trend. No association between radon risk levels and any other malignancy was seen.

CONCLUSION Children born in and staying at areas where the risk from ground radon has been classified as low are less likely to develop ALL than those born in areas classified as normal and high risk.

  • leukaemia
  • cancer
  • radon
  • ionising radiation
  • Geographic Information Systems

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  • Funding: the study was partly supported by a research grant from the County Council of Östergötland, Sweden.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.