A cohort of 4,742 men from Estonia who had participated in the cleanup activities in the Chernobyl area sometime between 1986 and 1991 and were followed through 1993 was analyzed with respect to the incidence of cancer and mortality. Incidence and mortality in the cleanup workers were assessed relative to national rates. No increases were found in all cancers (25 incident cases compared to 26.5 expected) or in leukemia (no cases observed, 1.0 expected). Incidence did not differ statistically significantly from expectation for any individual cancer site or type, though lung cancer and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma both occurred slightly more often than expected. A total of 144 deaths were observed [standardized mortality ratio (SMR) = 0.98; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.82-1.14] during an average of 6.5 years of follow-up. Twenty-eight deaths (19.4%) were suicides (SMR = 1.52; 95% CI = 1.01-2.19). Exposure to ionizing radiation while at Chernobyl has not caused a detectable increase in the incidence of cancer among cleanup workers from Estonia. At least for the short follow-up period, diseases directly attributable to radiation appear to be of relatively minor importance when compared with the substantial excess of deaths due to suicide.

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