Nasopharyngeal Radium Irradiation (NRI)

In late 1994, Congress asked CDC to assess the health risks associated with nasopharyngeal radium irradiation. This treatment was an accepted medical practice in the 1940s and 1950s to treat hearing loss, chronic otitus and other conditions in children and by the military for aerotitis media in submariners and aviators. The public and medical community are now concerned that people who received this treatment may experience delayed adverse health effects.

In September 1995, we convened a workshop on “The Public Health Response to Nasopharyngeal Radium Irradiation.” It brought together a diverse group of more than 100 scientists and lay people, including representatives of state and federal health agencies, the Department of Veterans Affairs, academic institutions, the military, Senate and Congressional staffs, veterans’ organizations, and civilians who received the treatments, to discuss the historical use of the treatment, possible health effects, and possible public health responses. The workshop also included a panel of 10 invited scientists who were asked to provide suggestions for follow-up public health activities. This panel’s recommendations provided directions for future CDC actions and Public Health Service recommendations.

We published a summary of the panel’s report in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association). The full workshop proceedings were published in the November 1996 issue of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery.

In response to panel recommendations, in 1996 we convened a live satellite video conference, which specifically covered the history of nasopharyngeal radium irradiation treatments. This conference linked CDC with more than 250 VA and DoD medical facilities throughout the country. It served as a continuing medical education program for physicians and other health care providers about the potential adverse health effects of this treatment, and included a demonstration of a thorough head and neck examination.
Since then, we have provided the videotaped version of the medical education conference to the Department of Veterans Affairs for use in more than 200 Veterans Affairs medical centers, to more than 50 public and private hospitals in Connecticut and Rhode Island, the media, and interested citizens.


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Page last reviewed: January 3, 2014