Objectives: To investigate the mortality and cancer incidence of Australian nuclear test participants, and to identify any association with exposure to ionising radiation.
Methods: A retrospective cohort study was carried out in which the mortality and cancer incidence rates of participants (n = 10 983) were compared with rates in the general male Australian population. Dose reconstructions were carried out by a panel of health physicists. Mortality and cancer rates were compared with the general population and between groups of subjects categorised by assessed radiation exposure.
Results: All-cause mortality was not raised. Mortality and incidence were significantly raised for cancers of the head and neck, lung, colon and rectum, and prostate, and for all cancers combined. For oesophageal cancer, melanoma, all leukaemias and non-chronic lymphatic leukaemia (non-CLL leukaemia), incidence was significantly raised, but mortality was non-significantly raised. No association was found between radiation exposure and overall cancer incidence or mortality, or with any cancer or cancer deaths occurring in excess.
Conclusions: There is no evidence that the excess cancers and cancer deaths were caused by radiation exposure at the test sites. Possible contributing factors are high smoking prevalence and demographic differences from the Australian population with whom rates were compared. Asbestos is a likely contributor to some cancers in naval personnel.
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Funding: This study was funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Competing interests: None.
Ethics approval: Ethics approval was obtained.