Many Who Got Thyroid Cancer After Chernobyl Still Alive: Study

WEDNESDAY, April 24 (HealthDay News) -- Many people who were children and teens when they developed thyroid cancer after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 are now in total or nearly complete remission, a new study indicates.

The finding is good news for people exposed to radiation from the 2011 Fukushima accident in Japan and other victims of nuclear disasters, the researchers said.

Following the explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine, there was a spike in the number of children and teens diagnosed with thyroid cancer in Ukraine, Belarus and western areas of Russia.

This study looked at the outcomes of nearly 250 Belarusian children and teens who were diagnosed with thyroid cancer after the disaster and underwent surgery and radioiodine therapy. The researchers found that 64 percent of the patients are in complete remission and 30 percent are in nearly complete remission of their cancer.

One patient died of lung fibrosis, a side effect of cancer treatment. Only two had thyroid cancer recurrences, according to the study, which was published online April 24 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

"Even though some patients did not receive optimal treatment initially, the vast majority went into remission after receiving state-of-the-art radioiodine treatment and follow-up care," study author Dr. Christoph Reiners, of the University of Wurzburg, in Germany, said in a journal news release.

"Many patients recovered from advanced cancers," he said. "Of this group, 97 percent had cancer spread to the lymph nodes, and 43 percent had cancer metastasize in the lungs."

The findings suggest that victims of more recent nuclear disasters face a lower risk of developing advanced-stage thyroid cancer.

"Although people fear a similar thyroid cancer 'epidemic' will affect Japan, the quick actions taken to evacuate or shelter residents and ban potentially contaminated foods following the Fukushima accident greatly reduced the risks of children developing radiation-induced thyroid cancer," Reiners said.

"In addition, Chernobyl has taught us how important it is to have at-risk children and adolescents screened for thyroid cancer to catch any cases in their early stages," he said. "Because public health authorities are aware of the risks, screening programs for children from the Fukushima area already have been initiated."

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about thyroid cancer.

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, news release, April 24, 2013

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