Occurrence of thyroid papillary carcinoma in young patients. A Chernobyl connection?

D J Blackburn, L A Michel, A Rosière, J P Trigaux, J E Donckier
Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology & Metabolism: JPEM 2001, 14 (5): 503-6
The risk of thyroid papillary carcinoma is increased by external radiation particularly in children under 15 years of age as shown by a marked increase in those exposed to radiation after Chernobyl. We were recently confronted in Belgium over a short period with four patients (3 F, 1 M) with papillary thyroid carcinoma who were aged 10 years, 2 months, 2 years and 6 years when the Chernobyl accident occurred. We thus raise the question of a possible relationship. The patients were aged 17, 11, 10, 19 years at presentation. They all presented fortuitously over 3 years which was a very unusual increase in our extensive experience in thyroid surgery (62 cases of thyroid cancer among 1014 thyroidectomies in adults vs 4 cases in 18 children since the Chernobyl accident in 1986). Two out of the four patients had psammoma bodies (identifiable on CT scanning and ultrasound) and thyroglobulin autoantibodies (TgAb). The first patient had positive lymph nodes at the time of surgery. The incidence of thyroid cancers in Belarus and Ukraine rose just 4 years after the Chernobyl disaster; because radioactive clouds passed over Belgium, we wonder whether the occurrence of thyroid cancer in our patients could be related to this irradiation. The mechanism of increased incidence of radiation-induced thyroid cancer is thought to be due to rearrangement of the tyrosine kinase domains of the RET and TTK genes. The other important similarities in our patients are the presence of psammoma bodies that can be visualized on radiological examination and the presence of TgAb that are more frequent in differentiated thyroid cancers. Whether or not these cases reflect an increased incidence in the population as a whole, clinicians must remain vigilant for this rare but curable cancer in young patients, especially if suggestive radiological features or TgAb are present.

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