Category: Radiation Treatment
Thyroid Radiation Treatment: A Look at its Unique Risks and Benefits
For decades, radiation treatment has been the treatment of choice for several of the most common forms of thyroid cancer. Although radiation is strongly associated with negative health connotations in the minds of many people, its long history as a successful treatment for thyroid diseases has helped establish it as a widely accepted form of medical therapy.
However, the true safety of radiation therapy for thyroid cancers has come under attack in recent months. Although experts agree that this treatment is effective as a means of stemming the growth of cancer, there is mounting evidence that at least for some patients, the risks of this treatment may equal or outweigh the benefits.
Even as the controversy over the safety of thyroid radiation treatment continues to rage, it remains the default therapy for thousands of people diagnosed with cancers and other diseases of the thyroid gland. This week, we'll take a look at the facts and arguments posed by those on both sides of the debate.
Iodine 131: Treatment or Safety Risk?
Many physicians identify the discovery of iodine 131 as a form of thyroid cancer therapy as a key turning point in the treatment of the disease. Indeed, the widespread use of radiation therapy coincided with a dramatic increase in the average survival rate and life expectancy for those diagnosed with the disease. Today, thyroid cancer patients who receive the treatment have a typical five-year survival rate of nearly 97%, representing a dramatic up-tick in the health outlook for those diagnosed with this form of cancer.
In fact, the success of iodine 131 as a treatment for thyroid cancer has been so profound and far-reaching that some physicians have recommended using the chemical compound in the treatment of other types of cancers. At the current juncture, experiments testing the efficacy of iodine 131 as a treatment for prostate, colon, and liver cancers are underway.
However, even as iodine 131 has gained widespread acclaim as a uniquely effective cancer treatment, other scientists have begun to question whether the safety risks associated with this type of radiation therapy may outweigh its benefits. Because of its intensely powerful radiation, iodine 131 poses a threat to anyone who comes into contact with it.
This means that patients undergoing cancer treatment with the drug have to follow very strict guidelines in their self-care in order to avoid the possibility of cross-contamination. In the last several years, anecdotal reports of patients who go into self-imposed isolation during treatment to avoid accidentally exposing their family members and loved one to radiation risk.
These claims of potential danger were recently validated by a finding issued by the National Academy of Sciences. This esteemed research institute released an official statement claiming that no amount of environmental exposure to ionizing radiation could be deemed safe, that even the most minimal exposure could pose a severe health risk.
However, even among those who believe the substance carries an unacceptable risk, there is disagreement over the amount of increased cancer risk that can be linked directly to iodine 131 exposure. Some scientists assert that the risk of exposure for most would be incalculably tiny, while others have contended that it could increase cancer risks by as much as 10-20% in cases of prolonged exposure.
Changing Protocols for Iodine 131 Treatment on the Horizon
The effectiveness of radiation therapy for thyroid cancer makes it highly unlikely that this form of therapy will be discontinued. However, what is more likely to change is the venue in which iodine 131 is dispensed to thyroid cancer patients.
The overall trend in medical treatment over the last several decades has been in favor of performing procedures on an outpatient basis whenever possible. As a result, few patients who receive radiation therapy stay in the hospital environment during the entire course of their treatment.
However, for some patients at least, the older method of receiving inpatient radiation treatment may become the norm. Especially for those with infants or young children at home, the hospital setting may offer a more controlled environment in which accidental cross-contamination is far less likely to occur.
If you or a loved one is facing the prospect of iodine 131 treatment in the near future, you can discuss your options with your physician to get a better understanding of the risks that may be involved. And please be sure to check back each week for more of the latest news about thyroid health.
For Further Reading
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