"Our study shows that clinicians can consider low-dose radioactive iodine in selected patients that have up to a four-centimeter tumor in the thyroid gland that has not spread outside the neck and have been operated on by expert surgeons," Mallick said.
The number of people diagnosed with thyroid cancer has been on the rise in the past decade, and there will be more than 56,000 new cases in the United States in 2012, according to the American Cancer Society's estimate. The disease, which is highly curable if caught early, affects more women than men, with patients tending to be diagnosed in their 40s and 50s.
The new studies suggest that, "we can spare a lot of young patients by using low-dose radioactive iodine," Mallick said.
However, Dr. David Cooper, an endocrinologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, said that patients under 45 probably can probably avoid radioactive iodine altogether if their tumors are small (less than 2 centimeters) and the cancer has not spread to other parts of their body. Cooper was not involved in the new studies.
In fact, some of the low-risk patients in the current studies might not have needed radioactive iodine treatment at all, Cooper said.
"The chance that a person with low-risk thyroid cancer is going to come back in a year or two with recurrence is no different whether they got radioactive iodine or not," Cooper said.
In low-risk cases, the whole point of radiation treatment is more about getting rid of the normal tissue, which makes monitoring patients for recurrence easier, and less about wiping out disease, which surgery usually takes care of, Cooper said. However tests are usually sensitive enough to pick out recurrence even in patients who do not receive radiation to help eliminate their thyroid.
The research, led by Mallick and his colleagues, involved 421 pati
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