Papers and Short Reports: A summary of mortality and incidence of cancer in men from the United Kingdom who participated in the United Kingdom's atmospheric nuclear weapon tests and experimental programmes

S. C. Darby*, G. M. Kendall, T. P. Fell, J. A. O'Hagan, C. R. Muirhead, J. R. Ennis, A. M. Ball, J. A. Dennis, R. Doll

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    61 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Altogether 22 347 men who participated in the United Kingdom's atmospheric nuclear weapon tests and experimental programmes in Australia and the Pacific Ocean between 1952 and 1967 were identified from the archives of the Ministry of Defence and followed up. Their mortality and incidence of cancer were compared with those in 22 326 matched controls selected from the same archives. The risk of mortality in the participants relative to that in the controls was 101 for all causes and 096 for all neoplasms. Thirty eight causes of death were examined separately. Significant differences in mortality were found for leukaemia, multiple myeloma, and other injury and poisoning, with higher rates in the participants, and for cancers of the prostate and kidney and chronic bronchitis, with higher rates in the controls. The mortality from leukaemia and multiple myeloma in the participants was slightly greater than would have been expected from national values (standardised mortality ratios of 113 and 111, respectively), but in the controls it was substantially lower (standardised mortality ratios of 32 and 0, respectively). Examination of the rates of leukaemia and multiple myeloma in groups of participants showed very little difference between groups characterised by recorded doses of external radiation or type of test participation and failed to indicate any specific hazard. Evidence obtained from participants who reported themselves voluntarily (or were reported by relatives or friends) suggested that 17% of participants may have been omitted from the main study group but that any resulting bias was small. Most of the differences observed between the participants and controls were interpreted as due to chance, but some may be due to differences in smoking habits. Participation in the test programme did not seem, in itself, to have caused any detectable effect on the participants' expectation of life, apart from possibly causing small risks of developing leukaemia and multiple myeloma.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)332-338
    Number of pages7
    JournalBritish Medical Journal
    Volume296
    Issue number6618
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 30 Jan 1988

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    Newcastle, and archives branches at Norcross and Nelson), the health departments in Belfast, Dublin, Guernsey, Jersey, and the Isle of Man, and the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys; and Dr P Fraser and other members of the Environmental Monitoring Unit of the Medical Research Council. We also thank all those who provided lists of independent respondents-namely, the British Atomic Veterans Association, the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association, the Royal British Legion, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Department of Social Medicine of the University of Birmingham, Oxford Eye Hospital, the Institution of Profes- sional Civil Servants, the Association of Scientific Technical and Managerial Staffs, and various government departments. Other staff from the National Radiological Protection Board, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, and the University of Oxford whose help we acknowledge include Steve Barry, Debbie Belcher, Sharon Bowler, Andrew Brown, Cathy Harwood, Mark Hillier, Gladys Lane, Christine Lees, Thora Mould, Louise Ogden, Carole Pearce, Stewart Rae, Steve Rees, Gill Saw, Lynda Smith, Irene Stratton, Val Weare, Sir David Weatherall, and Michael Yeats. Finally, we wish to record the contribution made by the late Dr John Reissland during the planning of this study.

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