Mars astronauts at higher cancer risk: Study

According to a study, the astronauts travelling to Mars outside the shield of the Earth’s magnetic field are at a higher risk of cancer than conventional risk models.

Francis Cucinotta, one of the researchers and scientist at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said:

“Exploring Mars will require missions of 900 days or longer and include more than one year in deep space where exposures to all energies of galactic cosmic ray heavy ions are unavoidable.”

He explained, “Galactic cosmic ray exposure can devastate a cell’s nucleus and cause mutations that can result in cancers.”

These new findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports. The findings show a non-targeted effect model, where cancer risk arises in bystander cells close to heavily damaged cells. This model leads to a two-fold or more increase in cancer risk compared to the conventional risk model for a Mars mission.

Cucinotta said, “We learned the damaged cells send signals to the surrounding, unaffected cells and likely modify the tissues’ microenvironments. Those signals seem to inspire the healthy cells to mutate, thereby causing additional tumours or cancers.”

Earlier, it was found that the galactic cosmic ray exposure to astronauts lead to the health risks including cancer, central nervous system effects, cataracts, circulatory diseases and acute radiation syndromes.

Cucinotta said, “Previous Cosmic rays, such as iron and titanium atoms, heavily damage the cells they traverse because of their very high rates of ionization. Current levels of radiation shielding would, at best, modestly decrease the exposure risks.”

It is noteworthy here that NASA has already made a plan to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.


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