Public perception of the rates of cancer and birth defects among survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs has been greatly exaggerated compared to reality, finds a new study.
The detonation of atomic bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 resulted in horrific casualties and devastation.
“Most people, including many scientists, are under the impression that the survivors faced debilitating health effects and very high rates of cancer, and that their children had high rates of genetic disease,” said Bertrand Jordan, Molecular Biologist at the Aix-Marseille University, in France.
Nearly 2,00,000 people died in the bombings and their immediate aftermath, mainly from the explosive blast, the firestorm it sparked, and from acute radiation poisoning.
However, “there’s an enormous gap between that belief and what has actually been found by researchers”, Jordan added.
For the study, the team summarised over 60 years of medical research on the Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors and their children and discussed reasons for the persistent misconceptions.
The studies which began in 1947 followed approximately 1,00,000 survivors, 77,000 of their children, plus 20,000 people who were not exposed to radiation.
The findings have clearly demonstrated that radiation exposure increases cancer risk, but also show that the average lifespan of survivors was reduced by only a few months compared to those not exposed to radiation.
No health effects of any sort have so far been detected in children of the survivors.
The relative risk increased according to how close the person was to the detonation site, their age (younger people faced a greater lifetime risk), and their sex (greater risk for women than men).
Cancer rates among survivors was found to be higher compared to rates in those who had been out of town at the time.
Incidence of cancers between 1958 and 1998 among the survivors were 10 per cent higher.
Although no differences in health or mutations rates have yet been detected among children of survivors, Jordan suggests even if the children of survivors do in fact face additional health risks, those risks must be very small.
The results were published in the journal GENETICS.