A possible link between a cluster of cases in New York City of an extremely rare type of cancer and the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in Ukraine has been found by researchers.
They began their investigation after 10 people in New York City were diagnosed with vitreoretinal lymphoma (VRL) in a four-year span.
VRL affects the eyes and can occur in people with a rare cancer called primary central nervous system lymphoma, a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in the brain or spine. Only about a fourth of those who have this cancer develop VRL.
The cluster of cases prompted the researchers to look closely at various characteristics of the patients, such as their age at diagnosis, racial/ethnic background, family history, where they've lived and other medical conditions they have.
That's when they discovered that six of the patients had lived in areas close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant at the time of the radiation disaster. Four reported living in the Ukraine, one in Poland and one in Moldova.
The median time from the accident to VRL diagnosis was 26 years, and there were no other medical conditions unique to these six patients, according to the researchers. The only common demographic variable was that seven of the 10 people were of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.
"Any clues pointing to risk factors or causes we could learn from studying these 10 cases could be valuable in understanding the biologic mechanisms that lead to this type of cancer, and possibly to other forms of lymphoma as well," lead researcher Roxana Moslehi said in a news release from the University at Albany, in New York. "Determining the risk and causative factors is instrumental in disease prevention."
Moslehi is a genetic epidemiologist and cancer researcher and associate professor in the university's School of Public Health.
"Though our results do not definitively confirm that exposure to nuclear radiation is a cause of VRL, our findings warrant further research on the role of radiation alone and/or in combination with genetic factors and gene-environment interactions," she said.
The findings also show that creating and maintaining collaborative multi-center registries for rare cancers such as VRL could help researchers learn more about these diseases, Moslehi said.
Information on the research was published online in the journal Leukemia & Lymphoma.