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THYROID CANCER INCIDENCE AMONG PEOPLE LIVING IN AREAS CONTAMINATED BY RADIATION FROM THE CHERNOBYL ACCIDENT

Ron, Elaine*

doi: 10.1097/01.HP.0000279018.93081.29
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As a result of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, massive amounts of radioactive materials were released into the environment and large numbers of individuals living in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine were exposed to radioactive iodines, primarily 131I. Iodine-131 concentrated in the thyroid gland of residents of the contaminated areas, with children and adolescents being particularly affected. In the decade after the accident, a substantial increase in thyroid cancer incidence was observed among exposed children in the three affected countries, and compelling evidence of an association between pediatric thyroid cancer incidence and radiation exposure to the thyroid gland accumulated. The data currently available suggest that both the magnitude and patterns of thyroid cancer risk are generally consistent with those reported following external exposure. Based on data from case-control studies, iodine deficiency appeared to enhance the risk of developing thyroid cancer following exposure from Chernobyl. Results from a recent large cohort study, however, did not support these findings. Data on adult exposure are limited and not entirely consistent. Similarly, information on thyroid cancer risks associated with in utero exposure is insufficient to draw conclusions. The lack of information on these two population groups indicates an important gap that needs to be filled. Twenty years after the accident, excess thyroid cancers are still occurring among persons exposed as children or adolescents, and, if external radiation can be used as a guide, we can expect an excess of radiation-associated thyroid cancers for several more decades. Since considerable uncertainties about the long-term health effects from Chernobyl remain, continued follow-up of the exposed populations should provide valuable information.

* Radiation Epidemiology Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, NCI, NIH, DHHS, Bethesda, MD 20892.

For correspondence contact the author at the above address, or email at eron@mail.nih.gov.

(Manuscript accepted 18 June 2007)

©2007Health Physics Society