“Radiation is a carcinogen.” This has been known since the time of Marie Curie and confirmed by the experience of the Japanese from the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Marie Curie developed leukemia after doing research on radioactivity.
Radiation causes DNA mutations in radiated cells which can be transmitted to later generations. It may require 5-7 mutations for the development of detectable cancers. Cancer results if the mutations result in genes which increase cell growth or suppression of genes which slow cell growth. Certain mutations allow metastasis. One study of breast and colon cancers showed an average of 90 mutations and twelve mutations were essential for the development of cancer.
The ‘bystander effect’ occurs when an un-irradiated cell next to an irradiated cell can develop genetic instability and mutate at a later date. Mutations may not occur at the time of radiation, but, can lead to mutations in the daughter cells several generations later. Some cancers may be due to damage and mutation of the genes which are needed to repair other genes.
The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was in 1986. The explosion resulted in release of radiation for a week. Wind carried radiation over a huge area. Radiation was detected from Ukraine and from Japan. Thirty-two directly radiated workers died within a few weeks. Many radiated people continue to suffer, now. The big difference from the atomic bomb was the large number of people radiated in the wide area from Chernobyl’s fallout. The exposure lasted for a longer time (up to years.)
Within 4 years of the Chernobyl accident, Minsk and Kiev had an increase in thyroid cancer in children caused by radioactive iodine-131. Because the thyroid concentrates iodine, the dose to the thyroid was 500-1000 times as high as to the rest of the body. The radiation from fallout is taken in, primarily, through milk. Breast tissue, especially during lactation, concentrates iodine in cows and humans. Children consume more milk than do adults. The incidence of thyroid cancer continued to increase until 1995. There may have been 4000 cases of thyroid cancer related to Chernobyl.
The dose of radiation to the thyroid is the main risk factor, but, the patient’s iodine status at the time of the radiation was important. The areas around Chernobyl are iodine deficient. The thyroid becomes larger in iodine deficiency states and a larger gland results in increased radiation exposure. The death rate from cancers at 20 years post-exposure is said to be 5%.
There is non-thyroid disease related to radiation. There have been reports of breast cancer increases in exposed young women due to sensitivity of the breast tissue. After the atomic bomb, young women were most susceptible to breast cancer at puberty. Leukemia can be caused by radioactive strontium which absorbs into bone. Other radioactive elements released at Chernobyl included Tellurium, Cesium, and Xenon.
In general, the present evidence indicates that adults, especially those over 40, exposed to Chernobyl’s fallout have a low or absent risk of cancer. The early thyroid cancers (papillary thyroid carcinoma) were reported to be more aggressive than the related thyroid cancers with onset at a later date.
CONCLUSION: The greatest risk known at this time after the Chernobyl accident was to young children for thyroid cancer from radioactive iodine. For young women at puberty, there was an increased incidence of breast cancer from radioactive iodine. There is an increased incidence of leukemia, possibly due to radioactive strontium absorbed by the bone and bone marrow. Studies must continue for the rest of the lives of those exposed to the fallout from Chernobyl.
NOTE: See Summary #387 by Patrick, L., about the protection from breast cancer that high iodine diets gives Japanese women on a traditional Japanese diet. Summary #480 is about the Atomic bomb health risks at Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Triphala is an Ayurvedic remedy that is said to be radioprotective.