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Clinical Oncology/Epidemiology

Cancer mortality and morbidity among workers at the Sellafield plant of British Nuclear Fuels


The mortality of all 14,282 workers employed at the Sellafield plant of British Nuclear Fuels between 1947 and 1975 was studied up to the end of 1988 and cancer incidence was examined from 1971 to 1986. This updates a previous report on mortality only up to the end of 1983. Ninety-nine per cent of the workers were traced satisfactorily. Cancer mortality was 4% less than that of England and Wales [standardised mortality ratio (SMR) = 96; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 90,103] and the same as that of Cumbria (SMR = 100: Cl = 94,107). Cancer incidence was 10% less than that of England and Wales [standardised registration ratio (SRR) = 90; Cl = 83.97] and 18% less than that of Northern Region (SRR = 82; Cl = 75.88). Cancer mortality rates were significantly in excess of national rates for cancers of the pleura (nine observed, 2.6 expected; P = 0.001), thyroid (six observed, 1.8 expected; P = 0.01) and ill defined and secondary sites (53 observed, 39.2 expected; P = 0.02). There were significant deficits of cancers of the liver and gall bladder, larynx and lung. Among radiation workers there were significant positive correlations between accumulated radiation dose and mortality from cancers of ill-defined and secondary sites (10 year lag: P = 0.01) and for leukaemia (2 year lag: P = 0.009), but not for cancers of the pleura and thyroid cancer. Previous findings of such associations with multiple myeloma and bladder cancer were less strong. There was a significant excess of incident cases of cancer of the oesophagus (P = 0.01), but this was not associated with accumulated radiation dose. For cancers other than leukaemia, the dose-response risk estimates were below those of the adult atomic bomb survivors, but the 90% confidence interval included risks of zero and of 2-3 times higher. For leukaemia (12 deaths, excluding CLL), under an excess relative risk model, the risk estimate derived for the Sellafield workers was about four times higher than that for the adult atomic bomb survivors with a confidence interval ranging from a half to nearly 20 times that of the atomic bomb survivors. Overall, however, there was no excess of leukaemia among the workers compared with national rates.

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Douglas, A., Omar, R. & Smith, P. Cancer mortality and morbidity among workers at the Sellafield plant of British Nuclear Fuels. Br J Cancer 70, 1232–1243 (1994).

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