Feature

Epidemic of fear

Science  04 Mar 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6277, pp. 1022-1023
DOI: 10.1126/science.351.6277.1022

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Summary

The general public's exposure to radiation due to the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan was limited because of prompt evacuations and swift control of the food supply. Nevertheless, Fukushima Prefecture launched a health monitoring program to assure residents and quickly identify any health problems that might result from the accident. As part of this program the prefecture is offering ultrasound thyroid examinations for all those aged 18 or younger at the time of the accident. Surprisingly, this program turned up thyroid growths in roughly 50% of those screened and more than 100 cases of cancer. Most scientists attribute the findings to the screening, which catches growths that would not normally be clinically identified and likely pose no health threat. The screening program might lead to a better understanding of thyroid growths and what they mean for patients.