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Journal of Oncology
Volume 2011, Article ID 860103, 11 pages
Review Article

Polonium and Lung Cancer

1Department of Territorial Pneumotisiology, AUSL of Bologna, 40124 Bologna, Italy
2Regional Health Service of Emilia Romagna, AUSL of Bologna, 40124 Bologna, Italy
3Université Paris XI, DIU tabacologie, 75012 Paris, France
4Complex Unit of The Institute of Chemical, Radiochemical, and Metallurgic Sciences University of Bologna (SMETEC), 40126 Bologna, Italy

Received 10 February 2011; Accepted 4 April 2011

Academic Editor: Aditi Chatterjee

Copyright © 2011 Vincenzo Zagà et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The alpha-radioactive polonium 210 (Po-210) is one of the most powerful carcinogenic agents of tobacco smoke and is responsible for the histotype shift of lung cancer from squamous cell type to adenocarcinoma. According to several studies, the principal source of Po-210 is the fertilizers used in tobacco plants, which are rich in polyphosphates containing radio (Ra-226) and its decay products, lead 210 (Pb-210) and Po-210. Tobacco leaves accumulate Pb-210 and Po-210 through their trichomes, and Pb-210 decays into Po-210 over time. With the combustion of the cigarette smoke becomes radioactive and Pb-210 and Po-210 reach the bronchopulmonary apparatus, especially in bifurcations of segmental bronchi. In this place, combined with other agents, it will manifest its carcinogenic activity, especially in patients with compromised mucous-ciliary clearance. Various studies have confirmed that the radiological risk from Po-210 in a smoker of 20 cigarettes per day for a year is equivalent to the one deriving from 300 chest X-rays, with an autonomous oncogenic capability of 4 lung cancers per 10000 smokers. Po-210 can also be found in passive smoke, since part of Po-210 spreads in the surrounding environment during tobacco combustion. Tobacco manufacturers have been aware of the alpha-radioactivity presence in tobacco smoke since the sixties.