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Radiation can damage DNA molecules in three ways: by causing a single strand break, a break in both strands, or a chemical change or mutation. A single strand break can often be repaired by the cell. The other two types of damage usually cannot be repaired.
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Can living cells repair damage from radiation?

Whether or not a cell can repair itself after being damaged by radiation depends on the type of damage to the cell's DNA.

Type of Damage Prospects for DNA Repair
Single strand break in the DNA Can usually be repaired and normal cell function restored.
Breaks in both DNA strands Usually damage is too severe for repair. The cell dies.
Chemical change or mutation Cannot be repaired. Cancer may result or a mutated offspring if this occurs in a sperm or egg cell.

Cells (such as those contained in the skin, eyes and blood-forming organs [BFO]) that reproduce rapidly are the most susceptible to damage because they cannot repair themselves easily while replicating. Acceptable radiation doses are usually given separately for these organs.

Last modified June 24, 2008 by Randy Russell.

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