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Global Environmental & Occupational Health

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Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

BELARUS: The Epidemiology of Breast Cancer Incidence in Belarus

Through our ITREOH program we are supporting the analysis of breast cancer trends in Belarus after the Chernobyl accident. This work has been performed in collaboration with the Institute of Oncology and Medical Radiology in Minsk. Our analysis shows that breast cancer incidence has been rising steadily and rapidly in Belarus for at least 20 years, from an average of 20.7 +/- 0.75 cases per 100,000 persons/year in the 10 years pre-Chernobyl to 31.2 +/- 1.07 cases/100,000 persons/year in the 10 year post-Chernobyl (1986 - 1996). WHO published mortality data, which considerably lag incidence data for this disease but which are considered more reliable in general than incidence data, show a 19% increase in Belarus between 1986 and 1993. Since radiation-induced breast cancer is believed to have a minimum latency of 5-10 years, it would only contribute to post-1990 incidence and its effect on mortality may as yet be largely unseen. Through our ITREOH program and through in kind assistance of Northwestern University breast cancer experts, we supported the development of the National Breast Screening Program in Belarus. Two visiting scientists were trained in principles of cancer epidemiology and on methodology of breast cancer screening. Our Belarussian collaborators have recently published the first papers from this work.