Kellerer, A. M. and Chen, J. Comparative Microdosimetry of Photoelectrons and Compton Electrons: An Analysis in Terms of Generalized Proximity Functions. Radiat. Res. 160, 324–333 (2003).
A current discussion on mammography screening is focused on claims of high relative biological effectiveness (RBE) of mammography X rays compared to conventional 200 kV X rays. An earlier assessment in terms of the electron spectra of these radiations has led to the conclusion that the RBE is bound to be less than 2, regardless of specific model assumptions and the microdosimetric properties of electrons. The present study extends this result in terms of the microdosimetric proximity function, t(x), for electrons, which is essentially the spatial auto-correlation function of energy within particle tracks. If pairs of DNA lesions, e.g. chromosome breaks or deletions, bring about the observed damage, the value t(x) determines for a specified radiation the relative frequency of pairs of lesions a distance x apart. The effectiveness of the radiation is thus proportional to an average of the values of t(x) over the distances, x, for which lesions can combine. The analysis suggests that 15 keV electrons can have a low-dose relative biological effectiveness (RBEM) of 1.6 relative to 40 keV electrons if the interaction distances do not exceed about 1 µm. An extension of the concept, the reduced proximity function, tΔ(x), permits the inclusion of models with an energy threshold, such as Δ = 100 eV, 500 eV or 2 keV, for the formation of each of the DNA lesions. This makes it possible to assess the potential impact of the Auger electrons which accompany most photoelectrons, but only a minority of the Compton electrons. It is found that the Auger electrons could make photoelectrons substantially more effective than Compton electrons at energies below 10 keV but not at energies above 15 keV. The conclusions obtained for the RBE of 15 keV electrons relative to 40 keV electrons will be roughly representative of the RBE of mammography X rays relative to conventional 200 kV X rays.