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Fukushima Radiation Increases Cancer Risk for Girls: WHO via Bloomberg

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Girls in the most-affected area of Japan’s northeastern Fukushima prefecture have as much as a 70 percent greater probability of thyroid cancer in their lifetimes, while boys’ risk of leukemia is as much as 7 percent higher, the United Nations health agency said in a report today.

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Japanese girls and women normally have a lifetime risk of 0.75 percent, and the additional risk for infant girls exposed to radiation in the most-affected area is 0.5 percent, the WHO said. The added risks in the second-most affected area are half those in the highest-dose location, the WHO said. More than twice as many thyroid cancers are diagnosed in women than in men, according to Cancer Research UK.

The UN agency said it deliberately used conservative assumptions that may have led it to overestimate the risks.

“It’s clear that more will be detected,” Angelika Tritscher, acting director for WHO’s food safety and zoonosis department, said at a briefing with reporters in Geneva today, referring to thyroid cancer. A zoonosis is an infectious disease transmitted between species.

Breast Cancer

Infant girls exposed in the worst-affected area also have a 6 percent higher risk of breast cancer, and a 4 percent increase in the risk of developing any solid cancer, according to the report.

A study by Stanford University scientists last year found that radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant may cause as many as 1,300 cancer deaths globally and as many as 2,500 cases of cancer, mostly in Japan. The WHO said it didn’t have estimates on the number of people affected by radiation.

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The nuclear plant may have emitted about 900,000 terabecquerels of radiation into the air at the height of the disaster, Tepco said in May. The total radiation release at the 1986 Chernobyl accident in Ukraine was estimated to be about 5.2 million terabecquerels.

The Fukushima accident didn’t last as long as that in Chernobyl, the geographic spread of radiation was less, and people were evacuated more quickly from 20 kilometers around the Dai-Ichi plant, Tritscher said. The evacuation was “probably the best public health mitigation measure,” Maria Neira, the WHO’s director for public health and environment, said at the briefing.

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