TUESDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Some thyroid cancer patients with early disease may be given radioactive iodine unnecessarily, while others with more advanced tumors who should get the treatment don't, a new study suggests.
More than 44,000 people are diagnosed with thyroid cancer annually in the United States, according to the study. When caught early, it is highly treatable by surgically removing the thyroid, and the vast majority of people survive.
To kill off any remnants of cancerous tissue, patients are often treated with radioactive iodine.
But the new study finds wide variation from hospital to hospital in the percentage of thyroid cancer patients getting radioactive iodine.
"We found that there was wide variation in the use of radioactive iodine, and the hospital where you received care made a difference in whether or not you received it," said study author Dr. Megan Haymart, an assistant professor of internal medicine at University of Michigan. "Whenever there is so much variation it suggests there is uncertainty -- that physicians are uncertain when radioactive iodine is indicated and when it's not."
The study is published in the Aug. 17 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Current guidelines recommended radioactive iodine to reduce recurrence in advanced thyroid cancer, including larger tumors and cancer that seems to be moving outside the thyroid. For less advanced, "low- risk" disease, the research isn't there to support the widespread use of radioactive iodine, Haymart said.
To determine how radioactive iodine is being used throughout the nation's hospitals, researchers looked at information from the U.S. National Cancer Database on nearly 190,000 thyroid cancer patients treated at 981 hospitals between 1990 and 2008.
During that period, the use of radioactive iodine increased from about 40 percent
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