Ion-beam irradiation provides a promising treatment for some types of cancer. This promise is due mainly to the selective deposition of energy into a relatively small volume (the Bragg peak), thus reducing damage to healthy tissue. Recent observations that electrons with energies below the ionization potential of DNA can cause covalent damage to the bases and backbone have led to investigations into the ability of low-energy (<1 keV·Da−1) ion beams to damage double-stranded DNA. It has been clearly demonstrated that these low-energy ions induce a mixture of single- and double-strand breaks to dried DNA in vacuo. These effects depend upon the number of ions incident upon the DNA, the kinetic energy of the ions and on their charge state. This DNA damage may be important, as all radiotherapies will result in the production of low-energy secondary ions as radiation passes through tissues. Currently, their effects are neglected in treatment planning, and thus more work is required to quantify and understand DNA damage by low-energy ions.

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