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Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: Beir VII Phase 2
with an increased risk of thyroid cancer in a dose-dependent manner, and the quantitative estimate of thyroid cancer risk generally is consistent with estimates from other radiation-exposed populations and is observed in both males and females. At present, no data are available from Chernobyl regarding the risk of thyroid cancer from in utero exposure. Iodine deficiency appears to be an important modifier of risk, enhancing the risk of thyroid cancer following radiation exposure from Chernobyl. Relatively little has been published regarding thyroid outcomes other than thyroid cancer, although one study has reported an elevated risk of benign thyroid tumors and there have been reports of increases in autoimmune disease and antithyroid antibodies following childhood exposure to Chernobyl.
Evidence from ecologic studies does not indicate an increased risk of leukemia among persons exposed in utero to radiation from Chernobyl nor that rates of childhood leukemia have increased. A single analytical study is insufficient to draw conclusions regarding leukemia risk after exposure of children to Chernobyl. There is no convincing evidence that the incidence of leukemia has increased in adult residents of the exposed populations that have been studied in Russia and Ukraine. There has been very little study of the incidence or mortality from solid cancers other than thyroid cancer in populations exposed to radiation from the Chernobyl accident, and there is no evidence of significant excesses of any other solid cancer type.
Four ecologic studies of populations exposed from natural background radiation did not find any association between disease rates and indicators of high background levels of radiation exposure (for a general discussion of the limitations of ecologic studies see the introduction to this chapter and, more specifically in reference to studies of populations exposed from natural background radiation, see Appendix D, “Hormesis and Epidemiology”).
Ecologic studies of children of adults exposed to radiation while working at the Sellafield nuclear facility in Great Britain have suggested some increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma associated with individual dose, but the findings are based on very small numbers of cases and the results across studies are not consistent. A larger number of case-control studies provides no quantitative estimates of the risk of disease in offspring of exposed parents, and results across studies are inconsistent. None of three published cohort studies provide quantitative estimates of risk based on dose-response analyses, and the results across studies are not consistent. Relatively few epidemiologic studies have been conducted to evaluate outcomes such as spontaneous abortions, congenital malformations, neonatal mortality, stillbirths, and the sex ratio in relation to preconception radiation exposure, and there is no consistent evidence of an association of any such outcomes with exposure to environmental sources of radiation.
In contrast to the considerable amount of information that is available from numerous studies of external radiation exposure, there is relatively little information regarding the risk of thyroid cancer in humans exposed internally to 131I. There is some evidence of a small increase in thyroid cancer associated with exposure to 131I from therapeutic and diagnostic uses, but the findings are inconsistent and the small increases in thyroid cancer observed in some studies are likely due to the underlying thyroid condition, not to radiation exposure. Results from environmental exposures have also been inconsistent. An increase in thyroid neoplasia has been observed in persons exposed to fallout in the Marshall Islands, but no excess risk of thyroid cancer was found in residents exposed to radiation from Hanford, and the slight excess risk of thyroid neoplasms associated with radioiodine exposure in Utah residents from the Nevada Test Site was based on very small numbers. In contrast, substantial increases in thyroid cancer have been reported in areas contaminated with radioactive fallout from Chernobyl, primarily among children. Recent evidence indicates that exposure to radiation from Chernobyl is associated with an increased risk of thyroid cancer and that the relationship is dose dependent. These findings are based on individual estimates of thyroid radiation dose and reveal strong and statistically significant dose-related increased risks that are consistent across studies.