Experts say link to disaster not yet established

Thyroid cancers up in Fukushima

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

Screening of Fukushima residents who were 18 or younger at the time of the 2011 nuclear disaster had found 26 confirmed and 32 suspected cases of thyroid cancer as of Sept. 30, according to the Fukushima Prefectural Government.

The number of confirmed cases was up by eight from August, while the suspected cases rose by seven, the prefecture-led study found.

About 226,000 people have undergone the screening program since it kicked off in October 2011.

The 26 confirmed cases underwent surgery and are doing well, according to the prefecture.

A panel of experts at the prefecture concluded Tuesday that it is too early to link the cases to the nuclear disaster, given that papillary thyroid cancer — the type found in the 26 people — develops at a very slow pace, according to prefectural officials. Following the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe, it took about four to five years for thyroid cancers in significant number to be detected.

Thyroid cancer is considered a major health concern for children because radioactive iodine spewed by the crippled nuclear plant tends to accumulate in thyroid glands, especially among young children.

Following the Chernobyl disaster, more than 6,000 children were diagnosed with thyroid cancer, according to the U.N. Scientific Committee, which attributed many of the cases to consumption of contaminated milk.

According to media reports, thyroid cancer normally strikes about 1 to 2 people aged 10 to 14 per million in Japan, far less than about 115 in 1 million cases in Fukushima. However, the figure cannot be simply compared, because the screening in Fukushima targets all children under 18, most of whom are without any symptoms, and no such screening is being done elsewhere in Japan.

To address mounting worries among local residents with children, the prefecture will expand the screening tests next April to include people born after the disaster started.

  • Such cases highlight the fact that governments are ‘expensive’ or an acute threat in ways that people simply don’t want to acknowledge. Storm surge in Philippines, poor preparation for tsunami in Japan. Some of these failures have derivative consequences. This is not a call for ‘more regulation’ but ‘private regulation’ where there is a private counterparty who can realistically be said to bear responsibility, and have an insurer who bears responsibility. If they don’t; they pay. Private companies don’t like to lose. Politicians don’t care; they make as much money in opposition as in government; and their ‘bonus’ from corruption depends on the alternating between ‘morally relativism’ of both parties, who are conspicuously dedicated to an ineffectual system.

  • Starviking

    Why are we taking media reports on the thyroid cancer rates for 10 to 14 year-olds? Theres a scientific series of papers on the matter. The latest one that is free to access is:

    “Cancer Incidence and Incidence Rates in Japan in 2005: Based on Data from 12 Population-based Cancer Registries in the Monitoring of Cancer Incidence in Japan (MCIJ) Project” By T. Matsuda et al.

    The link is:

    For males it gives the 15-19 incidence rate of thyroid cancer as 0.5 per 100,000.

    For females it gives the 10-14 rate as 0.1 per 100,000 and the 15-19 rate as 0.7.

    After 19 there is a rise in the rate for men, and a large rise in the rate for women.

    If I recall correctly, there are about 380,000 people under 19 in Fukushima Ken, so in any one year we’d expect, by roughly adding the rates (0.1 + 0.5 + 0.7 = 1.3), 4.94 cases. But that’s each year, and we’ve been looking for near three, so make that around 15 cases.

    BUT the rates are for the old method of detection – feeling for the anomaly, we are using ultrasound scanners, which have greater resolution – and so can pick up slow-growing tumours, like those mentioned in the article, well before they would normally be noticable. So tumour which would present themselves in the 20-24 age range will be detectable. That rate is 1.0 and 3.3 per 100,000 for males and females respectively, so working that into the sum in the preceding paragraph gives almost 15 cases per year, or over 3 years 45 cases. Well within the range of the figures mentioned above.
    Please not the above calculations are very rough, and only intended to get a ballpark figure.

    As for the cases not being able to be compared against other areas of Japan, not so. A study was reported in this very paper: other places had higher anomalies than Fukushima.

    The link is here:

  • Phil Rowe

    Using data from the Soviet Union for a base line to argue that thyroid cancer due to the explosions should appear four years after the accident is totally insane. The Soviet Union purposefully buried the evidence and only came clean after it was no longer possible to hide. The Japan Times continues to report a myth and as a result participate in the cover-up of the impact of the nuclear disaster at Fukushima.

  • shirokuma

    @Starviking. According to Asahi on line yesterday, “The latest figures show 12 people per 100,000 who were aged 18 or younger at the time of the accident developing thyroid cancer.That compares with an average of 1.7 people per 100,000 in the general population between the ages of 15 and 19 who contracted the cancer in 2007, according to statistics taken in four prefectures, including nearby Miyagi.” They have the studies and they already out of the norm by a factor 10 and that is just a beginning…Why? because iodine pills were prevented from being distributed by local Fukushima bureaucrats. On the other hand, the SPEEDI simulation maps showed the areas with 100 millisieverts or more equivalent dose at thyroid (effective dose for the whole body is 100×0.04=4 millisieverts) extended far beyond the 30-kilometer radius evacuation zone. Potentially, you could have thousand kids developing this type of thyroid cancer in Fukushima alone if we take the 2,5% unscear study ratio for 100 msv dose at face value. We are not even talking of other Kanto prefectures which have hotspots like south Miyagi, Tochigi (Nasu Shiobara), Ibaraki and Chiba (Kashiwa, Matsudo).

    • Starviking

      The averages are for kids who go to a medical facility to get checked for a problem that has appeared in their thyroid gland. This will usually be “palpable”, i.e. detectable by touch. This in no way can compare to the detection ability of modern ultrasound scanners.
      A good way to think about it is this. In the past, we could only look at the heavens through earth-bound telescopes. We could see a lot of stars. However, if we could get telescopes into space we could see more. We put up scopes like the Hubble Space Telescope, and saw stars and galaxies new to us – but they were not really new: they had been there all along. We just couldn’t see them with the resolution of our old telescopes. The same effect will likely be occuring in Fukushima: seeing more anomalies, some that would have had an effect – and so be normally detectable – later in life. Some may never have an effect – tumors and cancers which medical professionals are calling “incidentalomas”, something found when scanning for another issue.
      As for the Iodine-131, the major exposure route is drinking milk from cows grased on contaminated grass. So without that any dose should be low. Do you have a reference for the SPEEDI maps?

  • Kent98

    Radioactive iodine-131 has a half life of about 8 days but it is deadly as it attacks the thyroid gland. Every child in Japan should be given free iodine pills.