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Study shows possible correlation between TMI accident, cancer

Press & Journal staff report
Posted 6/7/17

Just one day after the parent of Three Mile Island announced plans to shut down the plant by September 2019, the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey publicized findings of a “possible …

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Study shows possible correlation between TMI accident, cancer

Posted

Just one day after the parent of Three Mile Island announced plans to shut down the plant by September 2019, the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey publicized findings of a “possible correlation” between the 1979 accident and thyroid cancers in counties surrounding TMI.

This is the first time such a link has been shown, the college said in a press release that was posted on Wednesday, May 31.

The finding is based upon an analysis of tumor samples from 44 patients who were treated at the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center for the most common type of thyroid cancer — papillary thyroid cancer — between 1974 and 2014.

The 44 patients had all lived in the areas around TMI at the time of the accident, remained in the area, and developed thyroid cancer after the accident.

The 44 patients were identified through a search of all thyroid cancer tumor samples in the hospital’s possession from the study period for patients who lived in the “at-risk” regions at the time of the accident — Dauphin, York, eastern Cumberland, Lancaster, and western Lebanon counties.

“While no single marker can determine whether an individual tumor is radiation-induced, these data support the possibility that radiation released from TMI altered the molecular profile of thyroid cancers in the population surrounding the plant,” said Dr. David Goldenberg, professor of surgery, who was the lead researcher for the study.

The entire study was released Monday, May 29, in a supplement to Laryngoscope, a medical journal.

The small sample size of 44 is a limitation of the study, Penn State Health said in the release.

“The next step in the research is a study with a larger number of patients from other regional hospitals to determine if the correlation continues in a larger sample,” according to Penn State Health.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a statement reacting to the Penn State Health finding said that the NRC had not yet had “an opportunity to review the study” but planned to do so at some point.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan noted in the release that the amount of radioactive iodine released into the atmosphere as a result of the 1979 accident was far less than the amount that an average American is exposed to each year from natural and man-made sources.

In addition, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center study released in 2000 found no link between the accident and cancer rates among people living within a five-mile radius of the plant. The UPMC study is considered “the most comprehensive study” that has been done on the subject, Sheehan said.