An increase in breast cancer incidence has been reported in areas of Belarus and Ukraine contaminated by the Chernobyl accident and has become an issue of public concern. The authors carried out an ecological epidemiological study to describe the spatial and temporal trends in breast cancer incidence in the most contaminated regions of Belarus and Ukraine, and to evaluate whether increases seen since 1986 correlate to radiation exposure from the Chernobyl accident. The authors investigated the trends through age-cohort-period-region analyses of district-specific incidence rates of breast cancer for Gomel and Mogilev regions of Belarus and Chernigiv, Kyiv and Zhytomir regions of Ukraine. Dose-response analyses were based on Poisson regression, using average district-specific whole body doses accumulated since the accident from external exposure and ingestion of long-lived radionuclides. The study demonstrated increases in breast cancer incidence in all areas following the Chernobyl accident, reflecting improvements in cancer diagnosis and registration. In addition, a significant 2-fold increase in risk was observed, during the period 1997-2001, in the most contaminated districts (average cumulative dose of 40.0 mSv or more) compared with the least contaminated districts (relative risk [RR] in Belarus 2.24, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.51-3.32 and in Ukraine 1.78, 95% CI=1.08-2.93). The increase, though based on a relatively small number of cases, appeared approximately 10 years after the accident, was highest among women who were younger at the time of exposure and was observed for both localised and metastatic diseases. It is unlikely that this excess could be entirely due to the increased diagnostic activity in these areas.
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