Study: Thyroid Cancer Patients May Receive Radioactive Therapy Unnecessarily

Study: Thyroid Cancer Patients May Receive Radioactive Therapy UnnecessarilyA new study published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found that certain thyroid cancer patients in the early stages of the illness may be receiving radioactive iodine without cause, while those in more advanced stages of the cancer, who should be receiving the treatment, are not, HealthDay reports.

According to the news source, radioactive iodine therapy is used in thyroid cancer patients that have successfully had their thyroid gland removed. The iodine is introduced into the patient's system in order to kill off any remaining cancerous tissue.

But the study found that hospitals widely varied administration of iodine in thyroid cancer patients.

"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," Dr. Megan Haymart, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan and lead study author, said in a recent statement. "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."

Haymart added that guidelines currently in place recommend the therapy for those with advanced stages of the cancer, while less advanced, "low-risk" disease has not seen the proper research needed to support widespread use of radioactive iodine.

The researchers studied information from the U.S. National Cancer Database on almost 190,000 cases of the disease at 981 different hospitals from 1990 to 2008. During the period, the use of radioactive iodine increased from about 40 percent of patients to 56 percent of patients, the media outlet stated.

The study also found that the likelihood of receiving the treatment depended highly upon the hospital.

For high-risk patients, including men over 45 in the later stages of the cancer, the odds of radioactive iodine being administered ranged from 25 percent at some hospitals to 90 percent at others.

The increasing unnecessary use of iodine raised flags for the researchers, as the treatment carries an increased risk for Leukemia or damage to the salivary glands. Women must avoid pregnancy for up to one year after receiving the treatment, and cannot be close to young children for about one week after, HealthDay stated.

According to the National Cancer Institute, thyroid cancer affected 44,670 people in the U.S. in 2010, and carries a relatively low mortality rate.