Answer to Question #10051 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Environmental and Background Radiation — Soil and Fallout

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:

I spent time ashore on Montebello Island in 1961. Ten years later I developed testicular cancer. Is there a possibility that there was sufficient radiation on the island at that time to cause the tumor?

The Montebello Islands are actually an archipelago and the largest islands are Hermite and Trimouille. I don't know exactly which you might have visited and how long you were on the land. The exposure that a person receives is directly related to the intensity of the radiation field and the length of time exposed. Without all of that information, it is very difficult to make definite conclusions about the level of exposure received.

Three nuclear tests were conducted in the Montebello Islands, one in 1952 (on a ship) and two in 1956 on the islands of Trimouille and Alpha. You visited somewhere in the region five years after the last test, though I don't know exactly where. The residual radiation field from nuclear testing decreases rapidly over weeks to months. After five years, the exposure would have been quite low on most locations in the vicinity.

While you don't state your age at the time of your visit, I might guess you were at least 25 years of age and about 35 at the time of diagnosis of your testicular cancer. It is worthwhile to note that testicular cancer is the most common cancer in males aged 20-39 years, and over a man's lifetime, he has a 1 in 250 chance of developing the disease.

Assuming you received a 10 mGy radiation dose (which I think is unlikely; your dose was probably much lower), that would imply a very small likelihood of developing testicular cancer, a chance of about 0.2 percent. Because testicular cancer is relatively common in young-to-middle-age men, it is likely to have originated for other, unknown reasons, as is the case for most cancers. It  is not possible to give a more definitive answer without more information, but it seems unlikely to me that this cancer was related to your visit to the Montebello Islands.

Steven L. Simon, PhD
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