Answer to Question #12486 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"
The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:
My wife had a radium treatment to the middle of her forehead to remove a birthmark in 1941. She now has Alzheimer's disease. Could the radium have been a facilitating factor in the development of this terrible neurological disease?
This is a difficult question to answer. Presently, the medical community agrees that exposure to ionizing radiation can cause cancer, but there is no similar strong opinion about radiation exposure and Alzheimer's disease (AD).
There are studies in the literature that appear to show causation of AD from exposure to ionizing radiation. However, there are also studies that indicate exposure to ionizing radiation may provide a potential treatment for AD. There are no strong, well-designed studies for either the causation of AD or the improvement of AD from exposure to ionizing radiation.
The only clear answer at this time is that the effect of ionizing radiation on the causation or treatment effects of ionizing radiation on AD need further study.
I am sorry that I cannot provide you with an answer to your question, but the data in the literature is not clear on this issue.
Joel Gray, PhD
Editor's Note: I found a scientific article which suggested that radiation might trigger mechanisms that favor AD (Begum 2012). But it also stated, "To date, there is no epidemiological data linking low dose ionizing radiation exposure with increased AD." The authors agree with Dr. Gray that more research is needed.
Begum N, Wang B, Mori M, Vares G. Does ionizing radiation influence Alzheimer's disease risk? J Rad Res 53:815-822; 2012.