Six young people in Fukushima Prefecture, who were aged 18 or under when the nuclear crisis began to unfold there in March 2011, have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer since June, prefectural authorities said Aug. 20.
In addition, 10 children are believed to have developed the same form of cancer.
The prefectural government said it was unlikely there was any link to the reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the earthquake and tsunami disaster. Officials explained that thyroid cancer typically develops several years after exposure to radiation.
The prefectural government has so far released thyroid testing results for 193,000 children. The number of children who have been diagnosed as or suspected of having thyroid cancer totaled 44, up from 28 as of June.
Eighteen of them have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and 25 are showing symptoms of the disease. The remaining child was suspected of having the cancer but was later diagnosed with a benign tumor.
The 44 children and young people who have received definitive or suspected diagnoses of thyroid cancer were aged between 6 and 18 as of March 2011. Their tumors were diagnosed as slow-growing types, ranging in diameter from 5.2 millimeters to 34.1 millimeters.
About 40 percent of them have participated in a survey to determine the level of their whole-body external radiation exposure during the first four months after the nuclear crisis started. Their radiation doses were less than two millisieverts.
A Fukushima prefectural government official said, “It is likely (the 44 children) developed tumors or lumps before the nuclear accident.”
The young people have undergone thyroid testing several times since the disaster, but the sizes of their tumors or lumps have remained roughly the same, according to the prefectural government.
In the case of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, thyroid cancer cases started to soar four to five years later.
A number of residents have expressed strong dissatisfaction with the Fukushima prefectural government over its interpretation of the effects of radiation exposure, the accuracy of its thyroid testing and the way it discloses information.
The prefectural government said it plans to create a panel of specialists who were not involved in the testing to reassess the results of the thyroid checks. The panel will also re-evaluate the treatment provided to those diagnosed with thyroid cancer, as well as the effects of radiation exposure caused by the nuclear accident.
The prefectural government is in the process of conducting thyroid tests on about 360,000 individuals who were 18 years old or younger and living in Fukushima Prefecture at the time of the disaster. The check-ups will continue throughout their lives. The government also plans to take a new look at the way the tests are conducted to see if there are any problems.
(This article was written by Yuri Oiwa and Teruhiko Nose.)
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