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» Thyroid check-up questioned by medical experts

 

More than three years after the triple core meltdown in Fukushima Prefecture devastated the lives of thousands of residents, the effect that the radiation release is having on children’s thyroid glands still weighs heavily on residents’ minds.

The Fukushima Prefectural Government in October 2011 started offering free thyroid screenings for everyone who was 18 or younger at the time of the disaster. The prefecture has 370,000 residents in that age group, and 300,000 had received voluntary checkups by the end of March.

The program may look good on paper, but it has drawn flak from medical experts who say it is far from adequate in determining a link between the cancers found and radiation exposure.

At the core of the criticism is the prefectural government’s policy of not releasing data on the results of the checkups, such as what stage of cancer the examinees are in.

This lack of disclosure — based on prefectural privacy policies — has made it hard for experts to accurately judge whether the abnormally high incidence of thyroid cancer in Fukushima is being caused the nuclear debacle or the higher screening rate.

In addition, the prefecture has no authority to follow up on children who test positive for cancer, meaning its data on the medical effects of the aftermath of the disaster will be limited.

As of March, the prefectural government found 90 children with suspected thyroid cancer after nearly 300,000 examinations. The prefecture was able to confirm that 51 of them opted to have surgery to remove part or all of their thyroid gland.

This figure is clearly high compared with a thyroid cancer registry rate of around one to nine per 1 million teens in Japan, experts say.

But because thyroid cancer often causes no symptoms and thus goes undiagnosed, experts point to the possibility that the ratio in Fukushima has turned out to be higher simply due to the widespread screening.

“The screenings may have ended up finding cancer that would have never have caused a health problem for their entire lives even if left unattended,” said Kenji Shibuya, a professor and chairman of the department of global health policy at the University of Tokyo.
<Media Report>
Experts question Fukushima thyroid screening (Japan Times)


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