Supporting anxious victims: Two years after the nuclear accident — Min-Iren Carries Out Thyroid Check for Futaba-machi Citizens

On March 2 and 3, a thyroid echography was conducted for Futaba-machi citizens of Fukushima Prefecture at Onahama Co-op Hospital (Iwaki City, Fukushima). Five medical doctors and 3 engineers were sent from Min-Iren for the occasion, where 44 people turned up for the check. (Article by Yasui Keitaro)

In the wake of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Fukushima Prefecture has carried out “Study on people’s health control (including the thyroid echography check)” in response to people’s voices of concern over their health due to the contamination caused by radioactive materials. This check is limited to Fukushima people who were between age 0 and 18 at the time of the accident. The check is provided every other year until they become 20, and every five years beyond that.
Futaba-machi independently sought to provide the thyroid check for its citizens between age 19 and 39. It was Min-Iren that decided to undertake the check, starting in December 2012.

Having a check-up with uneasy mind

A woman in her 20s leading a life of refuge in Iwaki City said, “I have long wanted to have this kind of medical check.” After a similar check, her sister was diagnosed as having some symptoms. “I think I am alright, but knowing my sister’s condition, I am a little anxious,” she said as she entered the examination room.
After the check, Dr. Matsumoto Jun (President of Fukushima Min-Iren) explained to her about the findings. “I found a small nodule, but it should not be a problem at the moment” he said. The woman asked, “Is there a possibility this would grow bigger in the future?” The doctor replied, “It might get bigger, but in some cases it may get smaller. A formal diagnosis will be made later involving more doctors, but I can assure you that you should not worry about the nodule of this small size.”
Dr. Matsumoto further asked her about her present living situation and told her kindly, “I understand you have had a hard time indeed.” As a result of the conference, her condition was judged as “A2” according to the table.


Table: Explanation of diagnosis from thyroid echography check

Result Explanation of diagnosis
A A1 No nodules or cysts found
A2 Nodules under 5.0mm or cysts under 20.0mm found
B Nodules over 5.1mm or cysts over 20.1mm found
C Judging from thyroid condition, secondary test necessary

Difficulty of communicating with patients

Dr. Takeuchi Hiroya (Kyodo Fujisaki Clinic, Kanagawa), a member of the Radiation Exposure Committee of Min-Iren was in charge of giving explanation to the examinee, who was suspected of having a “B” condition (which was later confirmed). When the doctor disclosed the result to the woman, she was taken by surprise and said anxiously, “Really?! What’s wrong?”
Dr. Takeuchi told her that the formal diagnosis would be made later and said calmly, “It is difficult to definitively observe from this image, but it seems like there is a nodule. If any, the possibility of malignancy is small and I am only slightly concerned. To make sure, it may be a good idea to have a thorough examination.”
“It is extremely difficult to convey to examinees or patients a bad news. Often, the moment they hear something is wrong, they mind would become a complete blank. It is important to give them some time to calm down and then provide a detailed explanation little by little in a kind manner, showing understanding to their anxiety,” the doctor said.

Parents concerned about their children

A man in his 20s living in Iwaki City with his wife and small children visited the hospital for the check. He regularly sends his children to have the thyroid echography check conducted by the prefectural government, and is assured of a “not particular” judgment. But he said, “I am concerned about their condition when they grow up.”
He has to try to keep his children inside to play. Even if they sometimes go outdoors, the time should be limited, and they are not allowed to get in contact with soil or sand on the ground. “Honestly I want to let them play outside to their heart’s content as before. But we have no choice but keep living here. For even if we take refuge outside the prefecture, there is no guarantee that I can find a new job,” he said with his head down.

Long-term healthcare support is necessary

As the result of the two-day thyroid check, 18 people were found to have “A1” condition, while 19 people have “A2”, 6 have “B” and 1 with “C” conditions. Recommendation was made to those with “B” and “C” conditions that they should take a thorough examination at a specialist hospital, and a letter of introduction was given to them later on.
At present, there is so much uncertainty regarding the impact of radioactive contamination on human health, especially with low-dose radiation exposure. Therefore, a long-term observation and healthcare support to the victims is necessary.
While providing support to the citizens of Futaba-machi, Min-Iren calls for a year-by-year examination on all of the 380,000 citizens to be covered by the investigation by the Fukushima prefectural government, and advocate the necessity of expanding the scope of such examination to people outside Fukushima prefecture.

(Article by Tada Shigemasa)