The use of the term ‘radiosensitivity’ through history of radiation: from clarity to confusion

<p><b>Purposes:</b> The term ‘radiosensitivity’ appeared for the first time at the beginning of the 20th century, few years after the discovery of X-rays. Initially used by French and German radiologists, it illustrated the risk of radiation-induced (RI) skin reactions. From the 1950s, ‘radiosensitivity’ was progressively found to describe other features of RI response such as RI cancers or cataracts. To date, such confusion may raise legal issues and complexify the message addressed to general public. Here, through an historical review, we aimed to better understand how this confusion appeared.</p> <p><b>Methods:</b> To support our historical review, a quantitative and qualitative wording analysis of the ‘radiosensitivity’ occurrences and its derived terms was performed with Google books, Pubmed, Web of Science™ databases, and in all the ICRP publications.</p> <p><b>Conclusions:</b> While ‘radiosensitivity’ was historically related to RI adverse tissue events attributable to cell death, the first efforts to quantify the RI risk specific to each organ/tissue revealed some different semantic fields that are not necessarily compatible together (e.g. adverse tissue events for skin, cataracts for eyes, RI cancer for breast or thyroid). To avoid such confusion, we propose to keep the historical definition of ‘radiosensitivity’ to any clinical and cellular consequences of radiation attributable to cell death and to introduce the term ‘radiosusceptibility’ to describe the RI cancers or any feature that is attributable to cell transformation.</p>