Chernobyl: Long-term study shows high survival rate in thyroid cancer
Decades after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, numerous people are still suffering from the consequences. A recently published long-term study by the research team led by Professor Dr. Christoph Reiners from the Würzburg University Hospital shows, however, that at least the thyroid cancer diseases in children after the nuclear accident - despite their severity - were often relatively easy to treat.
Together with scientists from Minsk (Belarus), the Würzburg researchers had "observed 229 children and adolescents with thyroid cancer from 1992 to 2012", according to the Würzburg University Hospital. All children in Germany received radioiodine therapy after their tumors had previously been surgically removed in Belarus. "All study participants were considered high-risk patients because they were exposed to very high radiation doses in the course of the Chernobyl accident," write the researchers.
27 years after the catastrophe Exactly 27 years ago, on April 26, 1986, an explosion occurred in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, in which large amounts of radioactive substances were released into the environment. The contamination reached into the neighboring countries. In the years following the nuclear catastrophe, children and adolescents in Ukraine, Belarus and western Russia increasingly experienced thyroid cancer. Although these were often particularly difficult, most of those affected have survived to this day, according to the results of the study by Prof. Dr. Reiners and colleagues.
Thyroid cancer healed in most people "Most people develop a form of tumor that appears to be more aggressive in children than in adults", but "the therapy worked well for almost all patients," reports the University Hospital in its press release. The researchers published their study in the journal "Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism". There they come to the conclusion that even if "radiation-induced thyroid carcinoma is already well advanced and initially treated suboptimally, the results of subsequent radioiodine therapy are usually favorable." Despite the high risk, the tumors in 64 percent of the study participants were complete regressed and in another 30 percent, radioiodine therapy led to an almost complete regression. Thanks to the after-treatment with thyroid hormones, which was required anyway, the cancer had not recurred even today. One patient died of a side effect of cancer therapy, known as pulmonary fibrosis, and relapses only occurred in two patients, the researchers report.
Hope for radiation victims in Fukushima Although "many of the patients did not receive optimal treatment at the beginning of their illness, they have nevertheless recovered from advanced tumors", explains nuclear medicine professor Christoph Reiners. It should be understood that the cancer had already affected the lymph nodes (97 percent of those affected) and that almost half of those affected had metastases in the lungs. Nevertheless, almost all patients could be saved. These findings are encouraging for other radiation victims, such as currently in Fukushima (Japan). In the course of the meltdown of several reactors in 2011, an even higher radiation dose was released than in Chernobyl. In addition, the region is much more densely populated than the area around Chernobyl. According to the expert, at least as many cancer cases can be expected here as in the Soviet Union.
Lessons from Chernobyl? However, in Japan "rapid evacuation and other countermeasures, such as food control, could have greatly reduced the risk for children and adolescents around Fukushima," said Professor Reiners. Here the lesson from Chernobyl must be that children and adolescents at risk are particularly carefully monitored for thyroid cancer, "because the chances of a cure are better if the disease is recognized as early as possible." According to the experts, appropriate screening programs are in the region of Fukushima already started. (fp)
After Chernobyl: 600 million people affected
How much radioactive radiation is harmful?
Seven iodine stores guarantee emergency care
How dangerous is radioactive radiation?
Iodine tablets inappropriate in Germany
Health: late effects from radioactive radiation
Radioactive radiation: consequences for health
Image: Andreas Kinski / pixelio.de