Surviving Cancer Post-Chernobyl

Thyroid cancer survival among young people affected by Chernobyl nuclear disaster

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The world’s first major nuclear incident happened 27 years ago in the former Soviet Union. The Chernobyl nuclear plant caught fire and later exploded, releasing radiation throughout the region. 

Exposure to this radiation left many children with thyroid cancer.

The wonderful news is that most of these children and adolescents were alive and in some stage of remission 25 years after the incident.

A new study has found that nearly all of the patients followed over the years are still alive, many without any signs of cancer.

These findings, according to the authors, offer hope to people affected by the 2011 Fukushima accident in Japan.

"Discuss cancer screening with your doctor."

Christoph Reiners, MD, of the University of Würzburg, Germany, and colleagues followed 229 youngsters from Belarus who had developed papillary thyroid cancer – the most common form of the disease that can be aggressive in children.

Within this group, the cancer had spread (metastasized) to the lymph nodes in 97 percent of the cases, and 43 percent of the youngsters saw the cancer spread to their lungs.

The young people had surgery in their own county and then radioiodine therapy in Germany.

Despite the high risk nature of their disease, the treatments worked. A total of 64 percent of patients are in total remission (no sign of disease), and 30 percent are in near remission after 11 to 15 years of follow-up.

“The Chernobyl reactor accident raised fears of a ‘radiation-induced pediatric thyroid cancer epidemic’ causing high mortality; similar concerns emerged following the Fukushima accident," the authors wrote.

"However, our long-term observational study in a large group of very high-risk Belarusian juveniles with radiation-induced differentiated thyroid cancer suggests that even when such disease is advanced and initially suboptimally treated, outcomes are generally favorable after appropriate radioiodine therapy,” the authors concluded.

Dr. Reiners said “…[T]he 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."

Findings from this study were published in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

The research was supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Reactor Safety, the European Commission General Directorate of Energy, the Federation of German Electricity Suppliers, the German Association of “Medical Support for Chernobyl Children,” the Belarusian-German “Arnica” Foundation and private donors. No author disclosed a conflict of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 24, 2013
Last Updated:
November 21, 2013