Children's rare eye cancer is linked to nuclear plant

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The Independent Online
CHILDREN whose mothers lived near the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria during childhood are at greatly increased risk of developing eye cancer, according to a study.

Scientists have found five cases of a rare tumour known as retinoblastoma in these children - 20 times more than the expected number. The condition usually affects 1 in 20,000 children.

In a letter to the British Medical Journal, scientists from the Lancaster Moor hospital and Lancaster University say that a common feature is that the mother had been resident in Seascale, on the Cumbrian coast near the plant, at some time since the early 1950s when Sellafield opened.

They are calling for further studies to see if other childhood cancers have increased in the 4,000 to 5,000 children born between 1950 and 1990 to mothers in the target group.

A second study in the BMJ suggests a link between leukaemia and children with fathers who work in areas of an atomic weapons centre where monitoring of radiation exposure by film badges was required.

The study was of children aged from birth to four living near the weapons centres at Aldermaston and Burghfield in west Berkshire. The incidence of childhood leukaemia is higher around the two establishments. The study was set up after a report by Professor Martin Gardner in 1990 which linked fathers' exposure to radiation at work with an excess of childhood leukaemias.

Dr Eva Roman and colleagues at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund's cancer epidemiology unit at Oxford say that the association with childhood leukaemia and fathers who are monitored may be a 'chance finding' because the numbers involved are small. But they warn that breathing in or swallowing substances whose radioactivity is not picked up by the badges may be implicated.

A government advisory committee has warned health authorities that skin cancers associated with excessive exposure to sun now constitute a significant health problem in the UK.

In the past 17 years the number of people dying from malignant melanoma - the most serious form of skin cancer - has increased by 75 per cent. For women aged 15 to 34 it is the third most common cancer and for men the seventh, according to the Cancer Research Campaign, which yesterday backed a new campaign, 'Play it safe in the sun'.

Although ozone depletion has been implicated, the most likely reason for the rise is the increase in holdays abroad and more leisure time spent in the sun.