Stochastic effect

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Stochastic effect - health effects related to a person's exposure to radiation. Frequent in the treatment of diseases such as cancer. However, this cannot be clearly attributed only to the effect of radiation exposure because it is only one of many possible causes of this effect. There are currently no commonplace available biomarkers that are specific to radiation exposure.

The higher frequency of the stochastic effect in the population can be attributed to radiation exposure through epidemiological analysis - provided that, among other things, the increased frequency of this effect was sufficient to overcome the inherent statistical uncertainties[1].

The occurrence of a stochastic effect

A characteristic feature of the stochastic effect is that there is no dose below which the effect does not take place, although the likelihood of carcinogenic or hereditary effects increases with dose.

The stochastic effect may result from the irradiation of one or more cells, and the severity of the response is not dose-dependent. Therefore, the dose absorbed by a limited part of the patient's body does not provide a general perspective on the risks associated with the procedure.

The effective dose is the right amount to take. It includes irradiated tissues and organs, as well as the dose involved. This is important because some tissues and organs are more susceptible to radiation than others.

The definition of the efficient dose is the sum equivalent to each shielded tissue and organs multiplied by the appropriate tissue weighting factors[2].

Types of effects

Radiological studies distinguish two effects: deterministic and stochastic. Deterministic effects hinge on killing many cells in a relatively short time. They are induced by strong exposures, and the result of this exposure is quite well set.

The dose size sets the intensity of the result. The most obvious deterministic result is the victim's death within a short time (several months or less) after exposure.

The effect of radiation exposure from nuclear energy is primarily stochastic. Even in the Chernobyl accident, relatively few workers received sufficiently high doses of acute radiation to cause death within a few months or other deterministic effects.

Many more people were exposed to lower doses. The predicted emergence of cancer in these populations is late, usually by more than 10 years from the time of exposure, and it is not likely to identify specific personal victims[3].

Types of radiation

There are several types of radiation[4]:

  • x-rays and gamma rays - quality factors is 1,
  • electrons (including beta particles) - quality factors is 1,
  • neutrons (depending on energy) - quality factors is between 5-20,
  • alpha particles and fission fragments - quality factors is 20.

These quality factors correspond to the standard values recommended in the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP).

Examples of Stochastic effect

  • Cancer: Exposure to radiation can increase a person's risk of developing cancer, including leukemia, lymphoma, or skin cancer.
  • Genetic Effects: Radiation exposure can cause changes in genetic material, leading to birth defects, developmental defects, and other health problems in future generations.
  • Immunological Effects: Radiation can damage the immune system, leading to an increased susceptibility to infections and autoimmune diseases.
  • Cataracts: Prolonged radiation exposure can cause cataracts, which is a clouding of the eye's lens that can lead to vision problems.
  • Cardiovascular Effects: Studies have suggested that radiation can increase a person's risk of cardiovascular disease, including stroke and heart attack.

Advantages of Stochastic effect

Stochastic effects of radiation exposure have some advantages, including:

  • Improved accuracy for targeted treatment of diseases such as cancer, as radiation can be used to target specific areas of the body and reduce the chance of damaging healthy tissue.
  • The ability to control the amount and duration of exposure, helping to minimize the risk of long-term health complications.
  • Reduced need for long-term follow-up care, as radiation can be used to treat diseases in one session and the effects of radiation can be monitored over time.
  • Reduced financial costs associated with treatments, as radiation is often less expensive than traditional treatments such as surgery or chemotherapy.

Limitations of Stochastic effect

  • Stochastic effects are difficult to measure due to the lack of specific biomarkers for radiation exposure.
  • Stochastic effects are hard to trace back to a particular exposure because radiation has a cumulative effect and timing of the exposure is difficult to determine.
  • Stochastic effects cannot always be attributed to radiation exposure alone and can be caused by other factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors.
  • Stochastic effects are hard to study due to the low levels of radiation exposure and the long latency period that can occur before any effects are seen.

Other approaches related to Stochastic effect

One other approach related to Stochastic effect is the use of epidemiological and health physics studies, which are used to estimate the risks associated with radiation exposure. This involves looking at populations who have been exposed to radiation, and studying the health effects on those individuals. Other approaches include:

  • Risk assessment models, which are used to estimate the likelihood of a certain amount of radiation causing health effects.
  • Analytical techniques such as bioassays and dosimetry, which measure the amount of radiation that a person has been exposed to, and the biological effects it has caused.
  • Clinical trials, which are used to test the effectiveness of treatments and interventions to reduce the health effects of radiation exposure.
  • Public health interventions, such as education and awareness campaigns that aim to reduce the risks associated with radiation exposure.

In summary, there are a variety of approaches to studying the Stochastic effect, from epidemiological and health physics studies to risk assessment models, analytical techniques, clinical trials, and public health interventions. All of these approaches are important in understanding the risks associated with radiation exposure and in helping to reduce the health effects.


  1. UNSCEAR, (2015), pg. 72
  2. Hall E. J., Giaccia A. J., (2006), pg. 192
  3. Bodansky D., (2007), pg. 87
  4. Bodansky D., (2007), pg. 61

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Author: Oliwia Książek