Retrospective case-series analysis of haematological malignancies in goldmining areas of South Africa
Background. South Africa (SA)’s high levels of environmental contamination of mine tailings from uranium and its decay products, coupled with remarkably short distances between mine tailings and residential areas, raise concern about whether there is an association between environmental uranium exposure and risk of cancer, including haematological malignancies.
Objectives. We reviewed information on cases from the central hospital offering cancer diagnostics and treatment in a major mining area of SA to describe their basic clinical and demographic characteristics, as part of assessing whether a cancer epidemiological study in this area would be feasible.
Methods. Basic clinical, demographic and residential information on patients with haematological malignancy diagnosed between 2004 and 2013 was collected retrospectively from the patient files at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto, Johannesburg.
Results. In total, 1 880 patients aged 18 - 94 years were identified. Referral from distant provinces was not uncommon, but >80% lived within 50 km of the hospital. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma accounted for 44% of the haematological malignancies, followed by leukaemia with 26%. HIV status was known for 93% of the patients, of whom 47% were HIV-positive.
Conclusions. Caution is required when interpreting spatial distributions of patients, given inaccuracies in residential addresses and referral patterns to the hospital, and with HIV and other infections probable important confounders. Our study therefore shows that active case recruitment is required for accurate assessment of residential information. However, some findings on spatial distributions in the study warrant the continuation of efforts to develop a study protocol to investigate the possible link between uranium exposure in mining areas and haematological malignancies in residents. Disproportionately high incidence rates of haematological malignancies observed in specific districts would be relevant for further investigation.