Over this 4-year time period, children who had concerning features on the initial thyroid ultrasound received a more detailed thyroid ultrasound examination, from which some were also recommended to have a thyroid nodule biopsy. Based on the biopsy results, 99 children eventually underwent thyroid surgery, of which over 99% were confirmed to have thyroid cancer. Children with the thyroid cancer results were aged 6-18 years at the time of the nuclear accident. Overall, the researchers found that the rate of new-onset pediatric thyroid cancer following the Fukushima nuclear accident was 37.3/100,000 individuals. In comparison, the rate of new-onset pediatric thyroid cancer in the United States was 0.54/100,000 individuals.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF THIS STUDY?
This study provides further information regarding the risks of radiation exposure among children after a nuclear accident. The rate of thyroid cancer found in children in the 4 years following the Fukushima accident is much higher than both the general population rates of pediatric thyroid cancer and as well as following other historic nuclear accidents, including the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. This is likely because of the dedicated mass screening effort done in Fukushima, which was not done in such a rigorous way after Chernobyl. It will be important to follow the children in this study through adulthood to see how beneficial mass screening is following a nuclear accident.
— Angela M. Leung, MD, MSc
ATA THYROID BROCHURE LINKS
Thyroid Cancer: http://www.thyroid.org/thyroid-cancer/ Childhood Head and Neck Irradiation: http://www.thyroid.org/pediatric-endocrinology/