After Fukushima: Addressing anxiety

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Science  06 May 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6286, pp. 666-667
DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6286.666-c

In his News Feature “Epidemic of fear” (4 March, p. 1022), D. Normile described the thyroid ultrasound examination program that launched in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident. He discussed the unexpected number of positive results and the potential for overtreatment, given that the natural history of thyroid cancer in children is unclear.

Despite these uncertainties, residents from Fukushima tend to directly associate examination results to their radiation exposure (1). They often associate their own decisions immediately after the accident (such as whether or when to evacuate, where to permit children to play, and what to permit children to eat or drink) with the appearance of nodules on the ultrasound. In particular, mothers have developed new anxieties and feelings of self-condemnation (2). We highlight two strategies that could help to minimize these reactions.

First, examination results are normally provided to the examinees in written form, but we individually explained the results immediately after each examination. Our objectives were to relieve the anxieties regarding the results; to address vague concerns regarding radiation health risks; and to explain the meaning of the thyroid screening.

Second, we provided classes on thyroid examinations to the school children (from 10 to 18 years old) who were examined. We explained the associations between radiation and thyroid cancer and helped the children interpret the examination results. The decision-making about examinations often reflected the concerns of the parents rather than those of the children. Through these classes, we tried to provide the children with opportunities to think about the benefits and limitations of the screening and to prepare them for discussions with their parents about radiation health risks.


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