Characterization of relative biological effectiveness for conventional radiation therapy: A comparison of clinical 6 MV X-rays and 137Cs

Michelle Howard, Chris Beltran, Jann N Sarkaria, Michael G. Herman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Scopus citations


Various types of radiation are utilized in the treatment of cancer. Equal physical doses of different radiation types do not always result in the same amount of biological damage. In order to account for these differences, a scaling factor known as the relative biological effectiveness (RBE) can be used. 137Cesium (137Cs) has been used as a source of radiation in a significant body of radiation therapy research. However, high-energy X-rays, such as 6MV X-rays, are currently used clinically to treat patients. To date, there is a gap in the literature regarding the RBE comparison of these two types of radiation. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate the RBE of 137Cs relative to that of 6MV X-rays. To determine the RBE, five cell lines were irradiated [Chinese hamster ovary (CHO); human lung adenocarcinoma (A549); human glioma (U251); human glioma (T98); and human osteosarcoma (U2OS)] by both types of radiation and assessed for cell survival using a clonogenic assay. Three of the five cell lines resulted in RBE values of ~1.00 to within 11% for all survival fractions, showing the physical and biological dose for these two types of radiation were equivalent. The other two cell lines gave RBE values differing from 1.00 by up to 36%. In conclusion, the results show the range in biological effect seen between cell lines, and therefore cell type must be considered when characterizing RBE.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)608-613
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Radiation Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017
Externally publishedYes



  • 6 MV X-rays
  • Cesium
  • radiotherapy
  • Relative biological effectiveness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiation
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

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