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West has learned thyroid cancer lessons from Chernobyl disaster


Western Governments seem to have learned many of the lessons of how to cope with thyroid cancers in the aftermath of a nuclear accident, a prominent thyroid specialist stated on Monday.

Professor Michael Sheppard is part of the WHO team which was sent to Chernobyl in the wake of the accident, to review how those affected were coping with the disaster. He believes that the UK, as well as other developed Western countries, have taken on many of the lessons of the accident.

April next year marks 20 years since the Chernobyl disaster. The Chernobyl Forum, set up by the WHO, the IAEA, and other bodies estimates that up to 4000 additional cases of thyroid cancer will result from the accident, mainly in children and adolescents.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Society for Endocrinology in London, Professor Sheppard said:

The Chernobyl disaster was a catastrophe for the people and areas affected, but we learned many lessons from the response. It was found that giving children iodine, even weeks after the event, was able to prevent a much higher incidence of thyroid cancer. We now have measures in place to enable iodine to be distributed to at-risk groups in the UK, and this would help contain the development of thyroid cancers in the event of a similar disaster here. We can’t afford to be complacent, but I believe that we do have the right safeguards in place.

Professor Sheppard also said that:

  • Cancers were more common in iodine-deficient areas near the reactor
  • Treating children with iodine, even several weeks after the disaster, was an efficient way of preventing the onset of thyroid cancer
  • Western countries have shown an increase in thyroid cancer after Chernobyl, although this increase has been small
  • It may even be that the high level of publicity given to thyroid cancer in the West since the disaster has caused doctors to pick up more cases, and to pick them up an at an earlier stage, to allow more effective treatment

Jo Thurston | alfa
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