Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thyroid Cancer Radiation Therapy USA Today Front Page Story

This article, "It kills thyroid cancer, but is radiation safe?, by Sternberg, and DeBarrios in the November19 USAToday, is full of facts about radiation therapy with radioactive iodine131, RAI/131 for well differentiated thyroid cancer. It is also full of errors.
Paragraph 5. The claim that RAI/131 is responsible for 97% survival rate is dead wrong.
The vast majority of Thyroid cancer is low risk, and would survive WITHOUT radioidine.
Good surgery, and thyroid hormone are the keys, not RAI/131.
Paragraph 13.The statement that things you touch become radioactive is very misleading.The patient is emitting gamma rays from the neck. The radiation on your fingers and clothes is beta radiation.It is not like gamma, or Xrays. It can not travel more than a millimeter.Washing your hands, dishes and clothes will remove this very very low risk radiation.
Gamma,and Xray penetrate, while gamma most be swallowed.
Paragraph 20. The physician states only two things can go wrong with RAI/131 therapy.
In addition to his joking about dropping it on his foot, there are acute radiation effects to the salivary glands, including painful swollen salivary glands, dry mouth, and increase incidence of solid tumors.
Paragraph28. "Thyroid cancer has a mild reputation because I-131 treatment is so effective, for most forms of the disease." That is flat out wrong. The disease is mild
because it is removed at surgery, and treated with thyroid hormone to suppress the TSH.
To credit RAI-131 for curing patients is a gross over-statement. Since sensitive thyroglobulin TG cancer marker testing, and endocrine neck ultrasound, there is less need for the previous cancer follow up method, total body I-131 body imaging. Also with lower and lower limits of the TG assay, low dose I-131 ablation of the remnant normal thyroid left after surgery is less necessary.Therefore even low dose I-131
is either not necessary in most low risk cancers,or has radiation exposure effects
that did not help them, but could cause problems years later.
A distinguished cancer surgeon over states the case for the so called "magic bullet".
Quote" RAI-131 goes straight the thyroid cells, and kills them". Radioiodine 131, does not just go to the thyroid cells as stated. The total body scan shows uptake in the breast, kidney, bladder, and brain, and thyroid. Late onset cancers of these organs have been shown to occur from I-131.
Paragraph 30.
"Doctors likely will be using I-131 more often as time goes by." This hopefully is also wrong. Low risk thyroid cancer, the vast majority of all thyroid cancers, is being treated with less I-131, or none, as diagnostic cancer markers and endocrine neck ultrasound become the tests of choice for cancer follow up, allowing more accurate measure of cure, without outdated frequent I-131 body scans. Also the practice of chasing lymph nodes with I-131, when it is a poor method to cure neck node disease, is hopefully on the way out as a common practice.
Paragraph 31.
"About 90% get treated with I-131." Wow, 90 % are low risk cases, and I-131 is not of value in these cases, but it is still dished out as if it was a cure all This is true, but is too high with modern diagnostic studies. After total thyroidectomy, and a suppressive dose of thyroid hormone, in a low risk case, with very low TG cancer marker, and negative endocrine neck ultrasound, makes I-131 unnecessary, and not needed in most cases.Many centers have markedly decreased their number of new cancer cases treated after surgery with I-131.
Paragraphs 34-35
Second hand radiation is a problem for uninformed patients. all patients in my practice are given intense teaching to avoid second hand radiation.The NCRPM 200 page guidelines work if the physicians take the time to educate as well as treat.
Paragraph 44.
Wow, 50% treated patients get nausea? 8% vomit?. I have treated with I-131 since 1974 in my office, and had only one patient vomit. Nausea is more likely from the Thyrogen R given before the I-131 dosing occurs.

This type of article is not helpful to patients. It is full of less than accurate information.
Low risk patients, do not die, but need to be followed for recurrence.
TG, and neck ultrasound are better at finding recurrence, than all the I-131.