A study of 12,000 people shows why the global threat of aggressive thyroid cancer has grown significantly during the past decade.
Researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) have definitively determined that if you are exposed to radioactive iodine, you run a much larger risk of developing an aggressive form of thyroid cancer. When they studied the thyroid health of people in Belarus who were children when exposed to radioactive iodine from the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster in Chernobyl, they found rates of aggressive cancer that were unprecedented.
The people who had been more extensively exposed to the radioactive iodine displayed the very highest rates.
“Our group has previously shown that exposures to radioactive iodine significantly increase the risk of thyroid cancer in a dose-dependent manner. The new study shows that radiation exposures are also associated with distinct clinical features that are more aggressive,” says researcher Lydia Zablotska, who teaches epidemiolgy and biostatistics at UCSF.
Zablotska warns that the same results can be expected for people exposed to radioactive iodine fallout originating from the 2011 nuclear reactor meltdowns in Fukushima, Japan. Those malfunctions occurred after a devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
“Those exposed as children or adolescents to the fallout are at highest risk and should probably be screened for thyroid cancer regularly, because these cancers are aggressive, and they can spread really fast,” Zablotska says. “Clinicians should be aware of the aggressiveness of radiation-associated tumors and closely monitor those at high risk.”