Category: Radioactive Iodine
The Truth About Radioactive Iodine Therapy: A Primer for Patients with Hyperthyroidism or Thyroid Cancer
If you’re like most people, the mere mention of the word ‘radioactive’ may have you making a break for the nearest fallout shelter. For those of us who lived through the Cold War and the stories of widespread environmental pollution that dominated the media in the 1980s and the 1990s, the word doesn’t exactly bring to mind visions of health and well-being.
Surprisingly enough, though, not all types of radioactivity are harmful. A number of important diagnostic tests and medical treatments rely on radioactive substances in order to work properly. In fact, if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with an overactive thyroid or one of certain types of thyroid cancer, the chances are good that one important part of your treatment will involve one or more doses of radioactive iodine.
Although the idea of getting shot with a dose of radioactive material sounds scary, this is actually one of the most effective -- and fast-acting -- ways to slow down an overactive thyroid gland and help your body get back on the path to wellness. This week, we’ll take a look at radioactive iodine therapy and its special role in the treatment of hyperthyroidism and thyroid cancer.
What is Radioactive Iodine Therapy?
Iodine is a chemical element that plays an important role in fostering healthy growth and development. Without sufficient levels of iodine in the diet, proper development can be stunted. The thyroid gland, in particular, needs a steady supply of iodine in order to function properly. The large thyroid growths known as goiters are a common result of iodine-poor diets.
All ingested iodine is processed through the thyroid gland. In fact, the thyroid is the only bodily organ that can break down iodine and use its chemical components. Because of this unique property, doctors have found that iodine-based treatments are often highly effective methods of delivering targeted treatment to the thyroid gland.
For this treatment, a small dose of iodine is made radioactive. Depending on the disorder that is being treated, the form of radioactive iodine that is taken differs from patient to patient. However, most people are given radioactive iodine either in a capsule that is ingested orally, or in shot.
For patients with hyperthyroidism, a single dose of the radioactive iodine may be all that is necessary to cure the disease. For patients with thyroid cancer, this form of treatment destroys cancerous thyroid tissue, as well as stray thyroid cells that may have moved elsewhere in the body. For both of these diseases, this treatment is highly effective.
What are the Side Effects, Symptoms, and Risks of Radioactive Iodine Treatment?
Because the thyroid is the only organ that can process iodine, the radioactive iodine poses virtually no risk of adverse outcomes or side effects. However, this treatment involves the ingestion of a very potent substance, and as such, it is not uncommon to experience a few adverse symptoms in the days and weeks following a dose of radioactive iodine. These include:
- Inflammation of the Thyroid. This is the most common complaint of patients who have gone through radioactive iodine treatment. As the thyroid gland processes the medicine, swelling and tenderness in the area is often unavoidable. Doctors refer to this temporary condition as ‘radiation thyroiditis.’ In the vast majority of cases, this inflammation will subside within several days.
- Possible Reproductive Side Effects. Both radioactivity and thyroid imbalance can have negative effects on a developing fetus, and as such, both men and women who have undergone radioactive iodine therapy are strongly encouraged to delay conception in the months following treatment. Typically, a period of six months will be sufficient to ensure safe conception. Also, because small amounts of the radioactive iodine may be excreted in breast milk, lactating mothers are often encouraged to choose an alternate treatment option.
- Eventual Hypothyroidism. Most experts agree that radioactive iodine treatment is the single most effective therapy available for patients with overactive thyroid glands. In fact, sometimes the treatment can work a bit too effectively, transforming overactive thyroid glands into underactive thyroid glands. If this occurs, you may have to take hypothyroid drugs to restore proper balance to your thyroid function.
Even taking these potential risks into consideration, radioactive iodine therapy is still one of the best treatment options for patients with hyperthyroidism or certain types of thyroid cancer. If your medical team has suggested this course of treatment, you can be confident in the knowledge that radioactive iodine therapy has a great track record of offering rapid, effective results with very little risk. Sometimes, a little radioactivity is just what the doctor ordered!
For Further Reading:
Note: The contents of this blog are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for professional care. This site should not be used in place of professional medical advice. The author is not a physician. For medical emergencies, call 911!
All content Copyright © 2007-2010 MedicalOnly.com and can not be reproduced without written permission from MedicalOnly.com.