Monday, August 8, 2016

【Thyroid Cancer in Fukushima】Fukushima Thyroid Examination Under Dual Review


Below is unofficial translation of two Fukushima Minyu articles regarding the review of the thyroid examination, published on August 8, 2016 (archived here) and July 4, 2016 (archived here). The August article is based on an interview of Hokuto Hoshi, Chair of Oversight Committee for the Fukushima Health Management Survey. It might be tied to this postThe July article covers the launch of an independent exploratory committee by Fukushima Pediatric Association. 

Interestingly, a telephone inquiry by a concerned citizen revealed the Division of the Fukushima Health Management Survey at the Fukushima Prefectural Office was unaware of the content of the August article before its publication in newspaper. They declined to comment on the issue for the time being while contacting Oversight Committee Chair Hoshi to confirm facts and discuss the issue internally.

On September 26-27, 2016, the 5th International Expert Symposium “Chernobyl+30, Fukushima+5: Lessons and Solutions for Fukushima’s Thyroid Question” will be held in Fukushima, organized by Nippon Foundation and co-organized by Fukushima Medical University, Nagasaki University and Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation. Judging from the symposium theme, there seems to be a rush to bring closure to the thyroid cancer issue even before the final results of the second round screening are released. A glance at the program is quite revealing.

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Oversight Committee for the Fukushima Health Management Survey Plan to Review the Thyroid Examination: Reduction in Target Population Considered

August 8, 2016 

Oversight Committee for the Fukushima Health Management Survey, engaged in discussion on the status of the survey to examine the health effects due to the nuclear accident, will begin discussions as early as September to consider reduction in target population as well as review of the screening procedure.

The thyroid examination that targets all residents who were age 18 or younger at the time of the accident will face a big turning point, as revealed by the Oversight Committee Chair Hokuto Hoshi in the interview with Fukushima Minyu as of August 7th.

The thyroid examination targets about 380,000 residents. Thyroid cancer cases detected by the examination are considered “unlikely to be the effect of radiation exposure at this time” by the Oversight Committee.

What lies behind starting the discussion to consider review of the examination is the concern about detection of “latent cancer” cases, which exist at a constant rate regardless of radiation exposure, by screening with high sensitivity. 

Thyroid cancer is curable in many cases, and the across-the-board cancer screening is unlikely to give rise to the merit of “reduced mortality.” Thus thyroid cancer screening is not globally recommended. This has led medical providers to voice concerns that “participation in the examination alone can be detrimental to the participants.”

Under the circumstance, the Oversight Committee is expected to begin discussions on issues such as: 1) Whether residents older than age 18 should be included in the target population in the future; and 2) Whether to change the method of mass screening currently conducted in school settings which has been pointed out to interfere with the participant’s wish not to participate.

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“Thyroid Examination” Should Be Reviewed: Fukushima Pediatric Association to Establish an Independent Committee

July 4, 2016

Fukushima Pediatric Association (president: Kazuhiro Ohga) adopted a general assembly statement incorporating the establishment of its own exploratory committee to consider the status of the thyroid examination on July 3, 2016 at the general meeting held in Kooriyama City. The thyroid examination, part of the Fukushima Health Management Survey that investigates health effects of the Tokyo Electric Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, is conducted by the prefecture targeting residents who were age 18 or younger at the time of the accident. The association deems necessary to review the thyroid examination, taking a fresh look at part of it. This is the first time the association expresses the need to review the examination.

Five years have passed since the nuclear accident, a question was raised about the status of the thyroid examination mainly by pediatricians performing medical examinations on residents who are targeted for the thyroid examination.

According to the Fukushima Pediatric Association, there are 172 individuals (as of the end of March 2016) who have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer or “suspicion of cancer.” Thyroid cancer is curable in many cases, and the screening is unlikely to give rise to the merit of “reduced mortality,” while there is a mental detriment when diagnosed with cancer. Thus thyroid cancer screening is not globally recommended.

The general assembly statement referred to health worries experienced by children participating in the thyroid examination and their guardians as well as residents, stating “It is necessary to explain (the results) to the participants with care and compassion and offer an easily comprehensible explanation to residents.”

President Ohga stated, “The thyroid examination was started in order to alleviate anxiety of residents, but it is possible the examination created (new) anxieties. It is necessary to review the examination from the standpoint of the participants.”

The Exploratory Committee, comprising the association members, is scheduled to begin discussions this fall. It will take up opinions of those diagnosed with thyroid cancer and intend to set directions before next year’s general assembly. In addition, the content of the general assembly statement will be sent to the prefectural government as a request in the future.


The statement also incorporates items regarding the response to health effects on children, long-term health management, and continuing support for children and their families who are evacuated or returning.

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