• Thyroid cancer;
  • Three Mile Island;
  • nuclear accident;
  • 131I exposure


Original data reported a potential increased incidence of thyroid cancer surrounding the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear facility. A causal link to the accident, however, was indeterminate. Our objective was to determine if data 30 years later will change original conclusions, explore thyroid cancer incidence rates near nuclear power plants, and better understand effects of chronic low level radiation.

Study Design

Retrospective cross-sectional study.


Retrospective data for specific Pennsylvania counties were provided by the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry Dataset for thyroid cancer using the Epidemiological Query and Mapping System search engine. Our study examines thyroid cancer incidence from 1985 through 2009 analyzed by year, county, and age.


Thirty years after the TMI accident, an increased incidence of thyroid cancer is seen in counties south of TMI and in high-risk age groups. The average incidence rates from 1990 through 2009 were greater than expected in York, Lancaster, Adams, and Chester Counties.


Thyroid cancer incidence since the TMI accident was greater than expected in the counties analyzed when compared to local and national population growth. This supports a link to chronic low level radiation exposure and thyroid cancer development. Despite these findings, a direct correlation to the accident remains uncertain as incidence rates may coincide with other factors, and original data were limited.

Level of Evidence

2b Laryngoscope, 123:2064–2071, 2013