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Scientist responds to "Nuclear power station cancer warning" headline

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Scientist responds to “Nuclear power station cancer warning” headline

Articles in The Daily Telegraph and Mail Online on Wednesday 10th June 2015 claimed “Women living downwind from nuclear power plants are at five times greater risk of developing breast cancer.” In fact the studies the articles were based on were published in a journal1 on Beall’s List of “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers” and can’t say why people got cancer.

Dr Frank de Vocht, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology and Public Health Research, University of Bristol

“People currently living near nuclear power plants were asked whether they’d been diagnosed with cancer and the researchers compared this to what they would have expected. This is an erroneous method since people will have moved in to or out of the area during the time it takes to develop cancer (about 20-30 years). So the population interviewed is very unlikely to be representative of the population that might have been exposed to any possible radiation from the plant.

“Importantly, the reported effect on breast cancer risk is based on only 5 cases. Epidemiological research with just 5 cases is generally not very reliable. Take, for example, if one fewer case was included (for example because that person only moved into the area recently and thus could not have been exposed) the study would have found no link. Three or four of the five breast cancer cases also smoked, and this is a known risk factor for breast cancer. With so few cases and the problems with the methods, it is impossible to say anything about the cancer risk.”

  1. Busby C. Cancer near Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power Station in Wales, UK: A Cross Sectional Cohort Study. Jacobs Journal of Epidemiology and Prevention. 2015, 1(1): 008.
    Busby C. Breast Cancer Mortality in Estuary Wards near Bradwell Nuclear Power Station, Essex, UK 1995-2001. Jacobs Journal of Epidemiology and Prevention. 2015, 1(1): 008.

Document type: For The Record

Published: 12 June 2015

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Source: Sense About Science

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