For over 35 years, astronauts in low Earth orbit or on missions to the moon have been exposed to space radiation comprised of high-energy protons, heavy ions, and secondary neutrons. We reviewed the radiation exposures received by astronauts in space and on Earth, and presented results from the first epidemiological study of cataract incidence in the astronauts. Our data suggested an increased risk for cataracts from space radiation exposures*. Using parametric survival analysis and the maximum likelihood method, we estimated the dose-response and age distribution for cataract incidence in astronauts by space radiation. Considering the high-LET dose contributions on specific space missions as well as data from animal studies with neutrons and heavy ions, suggested a linear response with no dose-threshold for cataracts. However, there are unanswered questions related to the importance and the definition of "clinically significant" cataracts commonly used in radiation protection, especially in light of epidemiological data suggesting that the probability that "sub-clinical" cataracts will progress is highly dependent on the age at which cataracts appear. We briefly describe a new study that will address the measurement of cataract progression-rates in astronauts and a ground-based comparison group.
ISOT; Oct 19, 2004 - Oct 20, 2004; Fort Worth, TX; United States