Twenty-five years have passed since radioactive releases from the Chernobyl nuclear accident led to the exposure of millions of people in Europe. Studies of affected populations have provided important new data on the links between radiation and cancer-particularly the risk of thyroid tumours from exposure to iodine isotopes-that are important not only for a fuller scientific understanding of radiation effects, but also for radiation protection. It is now well documented that children and adolescents exposed to radioiodines from Chernobyl fallout have a sizeable dose-related increase in thyroid cancer, with the risk greatest in those youngest at exposure and with a suggestion that deficiency in stable iodine may increase the risk. Data on thyroid cancer risks to other age groups are somewhat less definitive. In addition, there have been reported increases in incidence and mortality from non-thyroid cancers and non-cancer end points. Although some studies are difficult to interpret because of methodological limitations, recent investigations of Chernobyl clean-up workers ('liquidators') have provided evidence of increased risks of leukaemia and other haematological malignancies and of cataracts, and suggestions of an increase in the risk of cardiovascular diseases, following low doses and low dose rates of radiation. Further careful follow-up of these populations, including the establishment and long-term support of life-span study cohorts, could provide additional important information for the quantification of radiation risks and the protection of persons exposed to low doses of radiation.
Copyright © 2011 The Royal College of Radiologists. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.