Eight years after the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the most obvious effect is manifested by an increase in the prevalence of thyroid gland diseases in the exposed children and adolescents. In this study, we describe a comparative analysis of epidemiological, clinical, and morphological features of 92 malignant and 59 benign thyroid lesions from patients 5-18 yr of age exposed to radiation in Belarus as a result of the Chernobyl disaster. All of them were operated at the same institution during the period from September 1991 through December 1992. The highest number of patients that subsequently developed thyroid carcinomas was in the group that was less that 1 yr of age at the time of Chernobyl, and this number decreased progressively through age 12 yr. Conversely, none of the patients with benign lesions only was less than 2 yr old at the time of the accident, and an exposure age of 5-6 yr was a threshold separating significant prevalence of malignant tumors in younger children from the more frequent benign lesions in older patients (P < 0.001). Fifty-two percent of children with carcinomas and only 24% with benign lesions (P < 0.005) were residents of the Gomel region, which is the most contaminated in Belarus. The morphology of thyroid tissue adjacent to carcinomas showed a high prevalence of multinodular and diffuse changes, but not of adenomas or solitary adenomatoid nodules. There was a high prevalence of focal micropapillary hyperplasia with graded degrees of severity, which we hypothesize may correspond to precursors for papillary thyroid carcinoma in post-Chernobyl radiation-associated tumors.