Exposure to emissions from Mount Etna (Sicily, Italy) and incidence of thyroid cancer: a geographic analysis

Paolo Boffetta, Lorenzo Memeo, Dario Giuffrida, Margherita Ferrante, Salvatore Sciacca

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6 Scopus citations


An increased incidence of thyroid cancer has been reported in the area close to Mount Etna, the largest volcano in Europe located in Northeastern Sicily. We tested the hypothesis that exposure to the emissions from the volcano is associated with thyroid cancer in 186 municipalities from three provinces surrounding the volcano (1.9 million inhabitants). We measured the angle between the bearing of the municipalities and each direction, with special focus on South-East, the prevalent direction of the plume, and conducted a regression analysis on 2003–2016 incidence rates of thyroid cancer, adjusting for distance from Mount Etna, population size, and income. A 10-degree increase in the angle with South-East was associated with a decrease in thyroid cancer rates in the whole population (− 0.67 cases/100,000, p = 0.002) and in women (− 1.54/100,000, p < 0.001), and were robust to several sensitivity analyses. Similar results were obtained for East-South-East direction. These results support the hypothesis of a potential role of exposure to the plume from Mount Etna in determining the high rates of thyroid cancer. The results need to be confirmed in analytical studies, in which information of exposure to chemicals originating from the volcano, as well as other possible causes, should be carefully measured, molecular characteristics of the tumors and taken into account.

Original languageEnglish
Article number21298
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


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