Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Thyroid Cancer and Enviornmental Factors

So, I'm totally piggybacking off of last night's stupid cancer radio show, and fine tuning it to what I know about the environmental factors contributing to thyroid cancer, along with some theories. This topic isn't just timely b/c of the radio show, which you can listen to here, if you missed it, but also w/ yesterday's news article about how higher levels of detection do NOT explain the ever increasing numbers for thyca. So where is it all coming from?

There's a few listed risks around thyca, namely, age, gender, genetics, if you had radiation therapy before, and lack of iodine. But another big issue is exposure to nuclear radiation and fallout, from everything from a nuclear meltdown to nuclear testing.

What I find interesting tends to be the pockets and regions where there are high levels of thyca. Cities like Pittsburgh tend to be abnormally high. The region w/ the highest incidence of thyroid cancer is, surprise, surprise, Chernobyl. Malta is the highest in Europe (I don't know anything about Malta, but the charts are pretty disturbing).

Follicular thyca tends to be rerionalized in Africa, but this shouldn't be confused so much as an enviornmental issues, but rather due to the lack of iodine in the region. Most developed countries iodize their salt... for a good reason. If you rember ever collecting money for UNICEF, it went towards getting kids the iodine they needed.

I can't seem to find a specific chart to compare things with here. Its annoying; I'm waaaay to visual. What would be ideal, is if I could get a map that showed pockets of thyca and levels of radiation in the enviornment or their proximity to nuclear power plants. If you are a medical researcher, this would be a fantastic project. I basically feel like I'm just proposing random theories I can't back up. But basically, I would be willing to bet if you had such a chart, I think you could definitely link higher levels of certain types of radiation in the enviornment specifically to unexplained thyca (like me).

Now, the first time I ever learned about thyroid cancer happened to actually be while writing a policy paper focussing on the long term effects of nuclear testing (looking at everything from rehabitation to the health and environmental effects). With everything from yesterday, I thought it would be interesting to dig up my old report and see what it said.

Let me take you back in time now to 2004...

Summer of 2004, just days after I turned 21, I jumped on a plane and flew out to the middle of the Pacific, to an island called Majuro, the capital of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. I went out there for an internship with the U.S. Department of State. By now you should be pulling up maps and racking your brain as to whether you have even heard of this place... here, I've found a good one for you.

If you've never heard of the place, maybe you have heard of Bikini Island (just one of 1500 RMI islands)... if not for historical reasons then b/c Sponge Bob Square Pants lives at Bikini Bottom... a fact that I find incredibly hilarious and witty if it was done on purpose (lots of nuclear radiation, mutated talking sea life... at least thats how I look at it).

The historical context, based on research and interviews I conducted during my internship: Between 1946 and 1958, Bikini Atoll was used for U.S. nuclear and thermonuclear testing. (This links to a whole timeline if you are interested). All together, between Bikini and Enewetok, 66 nuclear and thermonuclear weapons were detonated. After President Johnson declared Bikini safe in 1967, 150 Bikinians moved back to Bikini. They were exposed to high levels of radiation. By 1978, doctors found dangerously high doses of radiation in the inhabitants due to Cesium137 in the food chain. According to Dr. (x) from the 177 Program (which provides health care for Bikinians), there has been an increase in cancers, particularly thyroid cancer, among those who returned to Bikini.

And that was it. That was the very first time I had heard about thyroid cancer. Just a handful of months before it invaded my life.

So what I learned there is that thyroid cancer tends to be linked to areas of high radiation, in particular selenium. Until I was effected, I really thought it was just a nuclear radiation issue. Despite claims that the radiation exposure in the RMI being "confined" to a few islands, as a whole, the population ranks amongst the highest levels of thyca in the world. A lot of people have asked me about whether I think that that is where my thyca came from, and its really hard to answer that question. Or maybe it was the long time I spent in Pittsburgh.

The next question then is, what can we do about it? Do we move people out of every place that has a correlation between thyca and radiation? What if there is also a correlation w/ other types of cancers in those same places? On a more theoretical side, if thyca were more deadly, would we then start seeing more efforts for evacuation? Or containment? Or at least monitoring?

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