Recommendations by the interdisciplinary working group, chaired by Professor Sommelet, to find out more about the risk factors involved in childhood leukaemia.

Published on 07/11/2011 • 02:30 pm

Press release

On 7 November 2011, the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), the Directorate General for Health (DGS) and the Directorate General for Risk Prevention (DGPR) issued a report including an inventory of current knowledge of childhood leukaemia and recommendations for new studies and research required to drive progress in this area.

In particular, the report recommends continuing and stepping up ongoing epidemiological research into the possible risks of leukaemia induced by low-dose ionising radiation, coupled with studies of exposure to other potential carcinogenic substances and related genetic factors.

The report was prepared by the interdisciplinary working group set up in 2008 by the ASN, DGS and DGPR, and tasked with analysing available knowledge concerning the risk of leukaemia in children living near basic nuclear installations.

The working group was set up after a German study, published in 2008, reported excess risks of leukaemia in children, aged zero to five years, living within a 5 km radius of German nuclear power plants.

Chaired by Professor Danièle Sommelet[1] and composed of healthcare professionals, representatives of associations and experts from the Institute for Public Health Surveillance (InVS), the National Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm), the group examined possible or suspected causes of childhood leukaemia, together with national and international research in progress in this area. It also considered the possible impact of other factors that might contribute to the development of leukaemia. Based on the inventory of currently available knowledge, the report shows that childhood leukaemia cannot be linked to proximity to a nuclear facility, even if some studies have pointed to possible excesses.

In addition to the inventory of current knowledge of childhood leukaemia, the interdisciplinary working group's report includes several recommendations aimed at: a) supporting epidemiological studies and research into the effects of possible genetic and environmental factors, including low-dose ionising radiation and certain carcinogenic substances; b) specifying the conditions required to allow continued epidemiological investigations in the vicinity of nuclear sites and; c) keeping the public better informed through clear communication, whatever the scientific uncertainties.

The ASN, DGS and DGPR draw attention to all the initiatives and decisions taken further to these recommendations:

  • The DGS and the French National Cancer Institute (INCa) have decided to create, as part of the national cancer plan, a new working group on information and communication with a view to obtaining a clearer idea of public expectations and keeping the population better informed, particularly concerning cancers. In addition, the DGS has asked the INCa to define a research and study programme to be coordinated with the partners concerned. In this respect, the Institute has already made an inventory of public health actions underway, as well as research initiatives in this area.
  • IRSN is behind a plan to perform an assessment of the methods employed in epidemiological studies on the risk of childhood leukaemia near nuclear facilities, with the aim of reaching an international consensus on methodology.

The ASN, DGS and DGPR have decided to set up an interdisciplinary committee to track progress in these initiatives. The committee will include representatives of various institutions and members of the working group.

The working group report can be consulted on the ASN, DGS and DGPR websites. It includes a foreword by Professor Danièle Sommelet, the working group's chairperson, and Philippe Unwin, general delegate of Source Vive, a childhood leukaemia association.

For further informations:

Press contacts:

ASN : Evangelia Petit, phone: +33 (0)1 40 19 86 61, evangelia.petit@asn.fr

DGS : Laurence Danand, phone: +33 (0)1 40 56 52 62, laurence.danand@sante.gouv.fr

[1] Danièle Sommelet is a former Consultant Physician in paediatric haemato-oncology and immunology and Professor Emeritus of Paediatrics. She is also a former Chairperson of the French Paediatric Society and of the French Childhood and Adolescent Cancer and Leukaemia Association.

Date of last update : 08/06/2017