Thyroid cancer link to Chernobyl radiation

Since the 1986 disaster, one in four thyroid cancer cases in Chernobyl has been caused by radiation.
Since the 1986 disaster, one in four thyroid cancer cases in Chernobyl has been caused by radiation.

Since the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Soviet Chernobyl reactor, one in four thyroid cancer cases has been caused by radiation in the region, UN scientists report in their first such estimate.

After reviewing various statistics and existing studies, the Vienna-based UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation said around 20,000 such cancers were registered between 1991 and 2015 in the area surrounding the reactor, which takes in all of Ukraine and Belarus, as well parts of Russia.

This figure covers people who were younger than 18 years at the time of the nuclear accident.

"Thyroid cancer is a major problem after the Chernobyl accident and needs further investigation to better understand the long-term consequences," UNSCEAR chairman Hans Vanmarcke said in a statement on Wednesday.

Based on limited data covering only the 1991-2005 period, UNSCEAR had previously put the total number of registered thyroid cancers in the region at 7000, but had not estimated the share that can be linked to radiation exposure.

The overall number of cases has increased nearly threefold to 20,000, not only because of radiation effects, but also because the group of people being monitored has been getting older, which has increased their natural risk of getting cancer.

In addition, the high awareness about thyroid cancer in the region and improved diagnostic methods have allowed doctors to detect a higher number of cases, UNSCEAR says in its paper.

Australian Associated Press