An investigation into the prevalence of thyroid disease on Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands

T. Takahashi, K. R. Trott, K. Fujimori, S. L. Simon, H. Ohtomo, N. Nakashima, K. Takaya, N. Kimura, S. Satomi, M. J. Schoemaker

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28 Citations (Scopus)


The prevalence of thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer was studied in the indigenous population residing on Ebeye Island, Kwajalein Atoll, in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. This island, centrally located in the nation, is home to about 25% of the nation's population, many who have migrated there from other atolls. The objective of the study was to obtain thyroid disease rate statistics on as much of the population as possible that was alive during the years of nuclear testing and to test the hypothesis that described a linearly decreasing prevalence of palpable nodules with increasing distance from the Bikini test site. 1,322 Marshallese born before 1965 were given a thyroid examination using neck palpation, fine needle aspiration biopsy, and high resolution ultrasound imaging. Approximately 40% of the total population living on this island who are at risk from exposure to radioactive fallout during the years 1946-1958 were screened. Of that group, 815 were alive at the time of the BRAVO test on 1 March 1954. Two hundred sixty-six people with thyroid nodules were found (32.6%): 132 were palpable nodules (16.2%), and 134 were nodules that could be diagnosed with ultrasound only (15.7%). Prevalence of palpable nodules was particularly high in men and women older than 60 y, in men who were 6 to 15 y of age at the time of the BRAVO test, and in women 1 to 10 y of age at the time of the BRAVO test. In 22 people, the clinical diagnosis was most likely cancer though histopathological evidence was only available from 11 operated cases. Of the 11 operated cases, 10 were cancer. Cancer prevalence was particularly high in those women born between 1944 and 1953 (7/220 = 3.2%), i.e., who were children during the early years of nuclear testing. The Ebeye data showed a marginally significant correlation between palpable nodule prevalence among women and distance to Bikini (r = -0.44, p = 0.06). This report summarizes the clinical findings of the thyroid examinations, the age distributions for nodular disease and cancer, and examines the relationship between prevalence of nodules and present day levels of 137Cs in the environment of each atoll.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)199-213
Number of pages15
JournalHealth physics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1997 Jul


  • Cancer
  • Health effects
  • Marshall Islands
  • Thyroid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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