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15 years later, a surprise from Chernobyl

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2001 - Spring


During the 1995-1996 academic year, Jack van Hoff, M.D., HS ’84, associate professor of pediatric oncology, took a sabbatical leave from the School of Medicine to coordinate pediatric data for a cancer registry project in Belarus, the former Soviet republic. That was where the heaviest fallout occurred outside of the immediate area surrounding the Chernobyl power station following the meltdown of one of its nuclear reactors 15 years ago this spring. Along with Clinical Professor of Medicine Nicholas Dainiak, M.D., van Hoff has since worked with the International Consortium for Research on the Health Effects of Radiation to study childhood leukemia in the region. The results have been surprising. “While the social effects on people within the area have been very significant,” says van Hoff, “the physical impact of radiation exposure has been small. There has been a remarkable increase in rates of thyroid cancer for individuals exposed as children. However, there has been no detectable effect on the rates of other cancers to date.”