Somatic health effects of Chernobyl: 30 years on

Eur J Epidemiol. 2017 Dec;32(12):1047-1054. doi: 10.1007/s10654-017-0303-6. Epub 2017 Sep 19.


2016 marked the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident. We and others wrote reviews for the 25th anniversary. Since then, additional papers have appeared and it seems timely to highlight lessons learned. To present, not a systematic review, but a commentary drawing attention to notable findings. We include not only recent reports and updates on previous results, but key findings from prior Chernobyl studies. The dose-dependent increase in Papillary Thyroid Cancer (PTC) following childhood I-131 exposure in Ukraine and Belarus has now been shown to persist for decades. Studies of post-Chernobyl PTCs have produced novel information on chromosomal rearrangements and gene fusions, critical to understanding molecular mechanisms. Studies of clean-up workers/liquidators suggest dose-related increases of thyroid cancer and hematological malignancies in adults. They also report increases in cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease. If confirmed, these would have significant public health and radiation protection implications. The lens opacities following low to moderate doses found earlier are also a concern, particularly among interventional radiologists who may receive substantial lens doses. Finally, there is some, inconsistent, evidence for genetic effects among offspring of exposed persons. Further efforts, including improved dosimetry, collection of information on other risk factors, and continued follow-up/monitoring of established cohorts, could contribute importantly to further understand effects of low doses and dose-rates of radiation, particularly in young people, and ensure that appropriate public health and radiation protection systems are in place. This will require multinational collaborations and long-term funding.

Keywords: Cardiovascular diseases; Cataracts; Chernobyl; Leukemia; Multinational collaborations; Radiation; Thyroid cancer; Thyroid disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Papillary
  • Cardiovascular Diseases
  • Cataract
  • Chernobyl Nuclear Accident*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation*
  • Humans
  • Leukemia
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced*
  • Radiation Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Radiation Injuries*
  • Thyroid Cancer, Papillary
  • Thyroid Neoplasms