This “Letter to the Editor” reviews the results of irradiation to the endocrine system, especially the parathyroid glands. Sixty-one cleanup workers from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion in 1986 were followed until 2009. They were compared with 687 normal controls.
The cleanup workers had a 25% risk of developing hyperparathyroidism (overactive parathyroid gland). The parathyroid hormone alters calcium absorption. There was continued risk of hypercalcemia (high blood calcium) and kidney stones (nephrolithiasis) in the cleanup workers. Ten workers had kidney stones. Their vitamin D levels were normal.
Twenty-five years after exposure, thyroid cancer risk was high in children exposed to radiation at Chernobyl. There was little effect on the thyroids of the cleanup workers who had the highest exposure. However, four of the cleanup workers died of unspecified malignancies. In 15 people thyroid lesions were seen on sonogram, but none of the workers had abnormal thyroid hormone blood levels. One adult was found to have thyroid cancer.
The authors speculate that the damage to the parathyroid hormone could be due to exposure to strontium-90. Both Chernobyl and Fukishima disasters resulted in huge releases of strontium-90.
CONCLUSION: The parathyroid gland should be considered a “radiation-sensitive endocrine organ”. The parathyroid glands appear to be more severely damaged by radiation than the thyroid glands and gonads in adults.
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