OBJECTIVE--To evaluate the outcome of pregnancy in Finnish women after the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on 26 April 1986. DESIGN--Geographic and temporal cohort study. SETTING--Finland divided into three zones according to amount of radioactive fallout. SUBJECTS--All children who were exposed to radiation during their fetal development. Children born before any effects of the accident could be postulated--that is, between 1 January 1984 and 30 June 1986--served as controls. INTERVENTIONS--Children were divided into three temporal groups: controls, children who were expected to be born in August to December 1986, and children who were expected to be born in February to December 1987. They were also divided, separately, into three groups according to the three geographic zones. END POINT--Incidence of congenital malformations, preterm births, and perinatal deaths. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS--There were no significant differences in the incidence of malformations or perinatal deaths among the three temporal and three geographic groups. A significant increase in preterm births occurred among children who were exposed to radiation during the first trimester whose mothers lived in zones 2 and 3, where the external dose rate and estimated surface activity of caesium-137 were highest. CONCLUSIONS--The results suggest that the amount of radioactive fallout that Finnish people were exposed to after the accident at Chernobyl was not high enough to cause fetal damage in children born at term. The higher incidence of premature births among malformed children in the most heavily polluted areas, however, remains unexplained.
Comment In: BMJ. 1989 May 20;298(6684):13842502266
Possible effects of Chernobyl fallout on outcome of pregnancy in Finland were evaluated in a nationwide follow-up study. The outcomes were the rate of live births and stillbirths, pregnancy loss, and induced abortions by municipality. Exposure was assessed based on nationwide surveys of radiation dose rate from the Chernobyl fallout, from both external and internal exposures. Using these measurements, we estimated the monthly dose rate for each of the 455 Finnish municipalities. On average, the dose rate from Chernobyl fallout reached 50 microSv per month in May 1986--a doubling of the natural background radiation. In the most heavily affected area, 4 times the normal background dose rates were recorded. Given the underlying regional differences in live birth, stillbirth, and abortion rates, we used longitudinal analysis comparing changes over time within municipalities. A temporary decline in the live birth rate had already begun before 1986, with no clear relationship to the level of fallout. A statistically significant increase in spontaneous abortions with dose of radiation was observed. No marked changes in induced abortions or stillbirths were observed. The decrease in the live birth rate is probably not a biological effect of radiation, but more likely related to public concerns of the fallout. The effect on spontaneous abortions should be interpreted with caution, because of potential bias or confounding. Further, there is little support in the epidemiologic literature on effects of very low doses of radiation on pregnancy outcome.
Nearly 2% of the male population of Estonia aged 20-39 years were sent to Chernobyl to assist in the cleanup activities after the reactor accident. A cohort of 4,833 cleanup workers was assembled based on multiple and independent sources of information. Information obtained from 3,704 responses to a detailed questionnaire indicated that 63% of the workers were sent to Chernobyl in 1986; 54% were of Estonian and 35% of Russian ethnicity; 72% were married, and 1,164 of their 5,392 children were conceived after the Chernobyl disaster. The workers were less educated than their counterparts in the general population of Estonia, and only 8.5% had attended university. Based on doses entered in worker records, the mean dose was 11 cGy, with only 1.4% over 25 cGy. Nearly 85% of the workers were sent as part of military training activities, and more than half spent in excess of 3 months in the Chernobyl area. Thirty-six percent of the workers reported having worked within the immediate vicinity of the accident site; 11.5% worked on the roofs near the damaged reactor, clearing the highly radioactive debris. The most commonly performed task was the removal and burial of topsoil (55% of the workers). Potassium iodide was given to over 18% of the men. The study design also incorporates biological indicators of exposure based on the glycophorin A mutational assay of red blood cells and chromosome translocation analyses of lymphocytes; record linkage with national cancer registry and mortality registry files to determine cancer incidence and cause-specific mortality; thyroid screening examinations with ultrasound and fine-needle biopsy; and cryopreserved white blood cells and plasma for future molecular studies. Comprehensive studies of Chernobyl cleanup workers have potential to provide new information about cancer risks due to protracted exposures to ionizing radiation.
A cohort of 4,742 men from Estonia who had participated in the cleanup activities in the Chernobyl area sometime between 1986 and 1991 and were followed through 1993 was analyzed with respect to the incidence of cancer and mortality. Incidence and mortality in the cleanup workers were assessed relative to national rates. No increases were found in all cancers (25 incident cases compared to 26.5 expected) or in leukemia (no cases observed, 1.0 expected). Incidence did not differ statistically significantly from expectation for any individual cancer site or type, though lung cancer and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma both occurred slightly more often than expected. A total of 144 deaths were observed [standardized mortality ratio (SMR) = 0.98; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.82-1.14] during an average of 6.5 years of follow-up. Twenty-eight deaths (19.4%) were suicides (SMR = 1.52; 95% CI = 1.01-2.19). Exposure to ionizing radiation while at Chernobyl has not caused a detectable increase in the incidence of cancer among cleanup workers from Estonia. At least for the short follow-up period, diseases directly attributable to radiation appear to be of relatively minor importance when compared with the substantial excess of deaths due to suicide.
To assess effects of fallout from Chernobyl on incidence of childhood leukaemia in Finland.
Nationwide cohort study. External exposure measured for 455 Finnish municipalities with instruments driven 19,000 km throughout the country. Values specific to municipalities corrected for shielding due to houses and fallout from A bomb testing. Internal exposure estimated from whole body measurements on a random sample of 81 children. Mean effective dose for two years after incident calculated from these measurements. Data on childhood leukaemia obtained from Finnish cancer registry and verified through hospitals treating childhood cancers.
Finland, one of the countries most heavily contaminated by the Chernobyl accident; the population was divided into fifths by exposure.
Children aged 0-14 years in 1976-92.
Standardised incidence ratio of childhood leukaemia and relative excess risk of childhood leukaemia per mSv. From incidence data of Finnish cancer registry for 1976-85, expected numbers specific to sex and age group (0-4, 5-9, and 10-14 years) were calculated for each municipality for three periods (1976-85, 1986-8, and 1989-92) and pooled as exposure fifths. Dose response was estimated as regression slope of standardised incidence ratios on mean doses for fifths for each period.
Population weighted mean effective doses for first two years after the accident were 410 microSv for the whole country and 970 microSv for the population fifth with the highest dose. In all Finland the incidence of childhood leukaemia did not increase 1976-92. The relative excess risk 1989-92 was not significantly different from zero (7% per mSv; 95% confidence interval -27% to 41%).
An important increase in childhood leukaemia can be excluded. Any effect is smaller than eight extra cases per million children per year in Finland. The results are consistent with the magnitude of effect expected.
Cites: Nature. 1993 Oct 21;365(6448):7028413648
Cites: Eur J Cancer. 1992;29A(1):87-951445751
Cites: Nature. 1992 Sep 3;359(6390):211522879
Cites: Radiat Res. 1990 Feb;121(2):120-412305030
Comment In: BMJ. 1994 Nov 12;309(6964):1300-17888862
Comment In: BMJ. 1994 Nov 12;309(6964):1299; author reply 13007888860
Comment In: BMJ. 1994 Nov 12;309(6964):12997888859
Inhaled radon has been shown to cause lung cancer among underground miners exposed to very high radon concentrations, but the results regarding the effects of residential radon have been conflicting.
Our aim was to assess the effect of indoor radon exposure on the risk of lung cancer.
To investigate this effect, a nested case-control study was conducted in Finland. The subjects of the study were the 1973 lung cancer case patients (excluding patients with cancers of the pleura) diagnosed from January 1, 1986, until March 31, 1992, within a cohort of Finns residing in the same one-family house from January 1, 1967, or earlier, until the end of 1985 and 2885 control subjects identified from the same cohort and matched by age and sex. In September 1992, a letter was sent to all study subjects or proxy respondents explaining the purpose and methods of the study. After giving informed consent, the study participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire on smoking habits, occupational exposures, and other determinants of lung cancer risk and radon exposure. The odds ratio (OR) of lung cancer was estimated from matched and unmatched logistic regression analyses relative to indoor radon concentration assessed by use of a 12-month measurement with a passive alpha track detector. RESULTS. Five hundred seventeen case-control pairs were used in the matched analysis, and 1055 case subjects and 1544 control subjects were used in the unmatched analysis. The OR of lung cancer for indoor radon exposure obtained from matched analysis was 1.01 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.94-1.08) per 2.7 pCi/L (100 Bq m-3) after adjustment for the cigarette smoking status, intensity, duration, and age at commencement of smoking by subjects. For indoor radon concentrations 1.4-2.6, 2.7-5.3, 5.4-10.7, and 10.8-34.5 pCi/L (50-99, 100-199, 200-399, and 400-1277 Bq m-3, respectively), the matched ORs were 1.03 (95% CI = 0.84-1.26), 1.00 (95% CI = 0.78-1.29), 0.91 (95% CI = 0.61-1.35), and 1.15 (95% CI = 0.69-1.93), respectively, relative to the concentration below 1.4 pCi/L (0-49 Bq m-3). The unmatched analysis yielded similar results with somewhat smaller CIs. In the analyses stratified by age, sex, smoking status, or histologic type of lung cancer, no statistically significant indications of increased risk of lung cancer related to indoor radon concentration were observed for any of the subgroups.
Our results do not indicate increased risk of lung cancer from indoor radon exposure.
Indoor radon exposure does not appear to be an important cause of lung cancer.
Comment In: J Natl Cancer Inst. 1997 Apr 16;89(8):584-59106650
Erratum In: J Natl Cancer Inst 1998 Mar 4;90(5):401-2
A study with 291 cases and 495 controls on indoor radon and lung cancer incidence was conducted in a Finnish population residing in a high-exposure area. Relative risks of 1.8 and 1.5 for the incidence of lung cancer were observed for those exposed to concentrations of 95-185 Bq m(-3) and 186 Bq m(-3), respectively. The increase in risk was not statistically significant.
This review focuses on current findings on the health consequences of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986. Acute radiation damage caused by exposure to high doses of ionizing radiation involved a few hundred people, apparently with fewer than 100 deaths within the first few months. Epidemiologically detectable increases in congenital abnormalities have not been reported thus far, with the possible exception of Down's syndrome. Owing to the long latency period of radiation-induced cancer, discernible increases in cancer incidence and mortality are not yet expected for most tumour types, especially among adults. However, dramatic increases in the number of childhood thyroid cancers have already been observed in Belarus and Ukraine and the Bryansk regions of Russia. The increase has been over 100-fold in some areas with heavy contamination. From the viewpoint of overall public health, the outlook of direct health effects of the Chernobyl accident are likely to be severe only among some limited subgroups, such as young children exposed to high levels of fallout nuclides. In absolute terms, the global number of Chernobyl-associated cancer cases can be estimated to be tens of thousands, but only a small fraction of these is likely to be discernible epidemiologically.