Interventional cardiologists who work in cardiac catheterization laboratories are exposed to low doses of ionizing radiation that could pose a health hazard. DNA damage is considered to be the main initiating event by which radiation damage to cells results in development of cancer and hereditary disease. The aim of the present study was to assess the effects of chronic low-dose X-ray radiation exposure on somatic DNA damage of interventional cardiologists working in high-volume cardiac catheterization laboratories. For this analysis, we used peripheral lymphocytes and the assay for micronuclei (MNs), which is considered to be a reliable biological dosimeter for radiation exposure. We obtained peripheral blood from 62 physicians (mean age+/-se = 40.6+/-1.5 years): 31 interventional cardiologists (group I, exposed) and 31 age- and sex-matched clinical cardiologists (group II, nonexposed). Interventional cardiologists showed higher MN values (group I=20.5+/-1.6 vs. group II=12.8+/-1.3, P=0.001), although some overlap was apparent in the individual subject analysis. A correlation between years of professional activity and MN frequency value was detectable for interventional cardiologists (r=0.428, P=0.02) but not for clinical cardiologists (r=0.253, P=0.17). The results indicated that, overall, interventional cardiologists working in a high-volume catheterization laboratory have higher levels of somatic DNA damage when compared with clinical cardiologists working outside the catheterization laboratory. The amount of this damage varies and is only weakly related to the duration of professional exposure, which suggests that a dominant modulation of the underlying genetic substrate by environmental factors has a role in determining the harm in individual physicians.