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Study Is Sought on Cancer Risk of Nasal Irradiation

August 30, 1994| From Reuters

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of thousands of Americans may face heightened cancer risks from a once-routine medical procedure of inserting radium up patients' nostrils, government and medical officials said Monday.

Veterans' advocates and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) urged the government to study the effects of nasal irradiation, used widely until the 1960s to ease air and submarine crews' ear problems caused by rapid pressure changes.

The procedure also was used on hundreds of thousands of children from the 1940s to the 1960s to treat common problems with middle-ear hearing loss and other ear and nasal conditions.

"A number of people who received the radium treatment later developed cancer where the radium came in contact with their body," Lieberman said at a Senate Environment subcommittee hearing. "We need to find out for sure if the radium caused the cancer . . . . "

Stewart Farber, who helped start an advocacy group called the Submarine Survivors Group, said the level of exposure and the number of servicemen and civilians exposed "dwarfs all radiation issues" that have been publicized since the Energy Department started releasing once-secret documents on Cold War-era radiation experiments.

Farber said there are estimates that up to 50,000 servicemen were affected by the nasal procedure.

There are estimates that up to 400,000 children underwent the procedure, sometimes repeatedly.

Susan Mather, an assistant chief medical director with the Veterans Affairs Department, said the department is starting to gather information on veterans who underwent the tests.

Studies conducted on children who had the treatment have been inconclusive but one found a "statistically significant increase in head and neck tumors, including brain tumors," said James Smith of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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