Risk of thyroid cancer up 70% for those who lived in the shadow of Fukushima

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Destroyed Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Photo: UNSCEAR/Wolfgang Weiss

People living in areas most contaminated by radiation following the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan in 2011 are likely to have a higher risk of getting cancer.

An assessment by the World Health Organization, or WHO, estimates risks in the general population in Fukushima Prefecture, the rest of Japan and the rest of the world, plus the power plant and emergency workers who may have been exposed during the emergency response.

The assessment shows that the risks for breast cancer can be up to 6% higher than would normally be expected for those living closest to the Fukushima nuclear plant. The risk of leukaemia is 7% higher for certain groups. The increased risk for most other cancers is expected to be low. However for thyroid cancer in females exposed as infants there's a 70% increase in what would normally be expected.

Dr Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Public Health and Environment at WHO says that it's important to remember that these figures still represent a small increase in the expected cancer rate.

"No discernible increase in the health risk from the Fukushima event is expected outside Japan. With respect to Japan, this assessment estimates that the life time risk for some cancers maybe somewhat elevated above the expected baseline rate in certain age and sex groups and in the areas most affected."

The expected risks for people in the second most contaminated location of Fukushima Prefecture, are roughly half of those who were subjected to the highest doses of radiation. For emergency workers, around two-thirds are estimated to have cancer risks in line with the general population, while a third is estimated to have an increased risk.

The report calls for long term continued monitoring and health screening for people who are considered to be most at risk.

Nicki Chadwick, UN Radio, Geneva.

Duration: 2’00″

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