Researchers from Roswell Park Cancer Institute,
Buffalo, New York, are part of an international group studying the
long-term health effects caused by the 1986 destruction of the
nuclear reactor at the power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine. The
subsequent leak exposed thousands to radiation and contaminated
farmland in both the Ukraine and Belarus.
Philip McCarthy, MD, Division of Medicine; Arthur Michalek, PhD, dean
of the Graduate Division; and Kirsten Moysich, PhD, Cancer
Prevention, Epidemiology and Biostatistics; are working on the
Leukemia Case Control Study of the Ukraine to determine whether
chronic, low-level exposure to radiation causes cancer. The US Navy,
which is interested in the long-term effects of radioactive exposure
because of the number of sailors exposed to radiation during the
course of their careers, is funding the study, which represents an
international collaboration among the United States, Ukraine,
Belarus, former Soviet Union, and Israel.
Correlation Between Low-Level Radiation Exposure and Cancer?
We expected to find and have found increased levels of cancer
of the thyroid, the most radiation sensitive organ in the body. We
are currently looking at acute lymphoblastic leukemia because we
believe it may be radiation sensitive. We do not know what other
cancers may result, but we may look at bone, breast, and testicular
cancer and infertility issues in this region in the future,
said Dr. Michalek.
The study is specifically examining persons who were under 6 years
old at the time of exposure. Each confirmed case of acute
lymphoblastic leukemia is interviewed and a dose of radiation
exposure is calculated for that person. To date, 139 patients with
acute lymphoblastic leukemia and 219 controls have been identified
and interviewed. The goal is to find 280 acute lymphoblastic leukemia
cases and 560 controls in the Ukraine. The data from this population
will be pooled with similar studies in Belarus and the former Soviet
Union to see whether low, medium, or high exposure affects health.
The study should be completed in early 2000 and initial results
should be available in later in that year. I dont know if
we will find any correlation between low-level exposure to radiation
and cancer. This does offer an opportunity to learn about the
long-term effects of radiation and help the people who were affected
by the explosion, said Dr. Michalek.