Cancer mortality in relation to monitoring for radionuclide exposure in three UK nuclear industry workforces.
Carpenter LM., Higgins CD., Douglas AJ., Maconochie NE., Omar RZ., Fraser P., Beral V., Smith PG.
Cancer mortality in 40,761 employees of three UK nuclear industry facilities who had been monitored for external radiation exposure was examined according to whether they had also been monitored for possible internal exposure to tritium, plutonium or other radionuclides (uranium, polonium, actinium or other unspecified). Death rates from cancer were compared both with national rates and with rates in radiation workers not monitored for exposure to any radionuclides. Among workers monitored for tritium exposure, overall cancer mortality was significantly below national rates [standardized mortality ratio (SMR) = 83, 165 deaths; 2P = 0.02] and none of the cancer-specific death rates was significantly above either the national average or rates in non-monitored workers. Although the overall death rate from cancer in workers monitored for plutonium exposure was also significantly low relative to national rates (SMR = 89, 581 deaths; 2P = 0.005), mortality from pleural cancer was significantly raised (SMR = 357, nine deaths; 2P = 0.002); none of the rates differed significantly from those of non-monitored workers. Workers monitored for radionuclides other than tritium or plutonium also had a death rate from all cancers combined that was below the national average (SMR = 86, 418 deaths; 2P = 0.002) but prostatic cancer mortality was raised both in relation to death rates in the general population (SMR = 153, 37 deaths; 2P = 0.02) and to death rates in radiation workers who had not been monitored for exposure to any radionuclide [rate ratio (RR) = 1.65; 2P = 0.03]. Mortality from cancer of the lung was also significantly increased in workers monitored for other radionuclides compared with those of radiation workers not monitored for exposure to radionuclides (RR = 1.31, 164 deaths; 2P = 0.01). For cancers of the lung, prostate and all cancers combined, death rates in monitored workers were examined according to the timing and duration of monitoring for radionuclide exposure, with rates of radiation workers not monitored for any radionuclide forming the comparison group. In tritium-monitored workers, RRs for prostatic cancer varied significantly according to the number of years in which they were monitored (2P = 0.03). In workers monitored for plutonium exposure, RRs for all cancers combined increased with the number of years in which they were monitored (2P = 0.04) and with the number of years since first monitoring (2P = 0.0003). There was little suggestion of systematic variation in RRs for workers monitored for other radionuclides in relation to the timing or duration of monitoring, nor did it appear that their raised rates of cancer of the lung and prostate were explained by external radiation dose. These analyses of cancer mortality in relation to monitoring for radionuclide exposure reported in a large cohort of nuclear industry workers suggest that certain patterns of monitoring for some radionuclides may be associated with higher death rates from cancers of the lung, pleura, prostate and all cancers combined. Some of these findings may be due to chance. Moreover, because of the paucity of related data and lack of information about other possible exposures, such as whether plutonium workers are more likely to be exposed to asbestos, firm conclusions cannot be drawn at this stage. Further investigations of the relationship between radionuclide exposure and cancer in nuclear industry workers are needed.