What is radioactive iodine therapy for thyroid cancer?
Radioactive iodine therapy, also known as radioiodine therapy, is a treatment option for thyroid cancer. It involves the use of radioactive iodine, a form of iodine that emits radiation, to destroy cancerous thyroid cells. This therapy is primarily used following surgery to remove the thyroid gland, or in cases where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
How does radioactive iodine therapy work?
- Radioactive iodine uptake: Before the therapy, the patient is given a small amount of radioactive iodine in the form of a capsule or liquid. The radioactive iodine is taken up by the remaining thyroid cells, including any cancer cells. These cells absorb iodine more than any other cells in the body.
- Radiation destruction: Once the radioactive iodine is absorbed by the thyroid cells, it emits radiation that targets and destroys these cells. The radiation damages the DNA of the cancer cells, preventing them from dividing and growing.
- Selective targeting: Since thyroid cells are the only cells that actively take up iodine, the radiation primarily affects the thyroid tissue, including any remaining cancer cells. This selective targeting minimizes damage to surrounding healthy tissues.
Why is radioactive iodine therapy used?
Radioactive iodine therapy has several purposes in the treatment of thyroid cancer:
- Destroying remaining thyroid tissue: After surgical removal of the thyroid gland, small amounts of thyroid tissue may still be present. Radioactive iodine therapy helps eliminate any remaining thyroid tissue, reducing the risk of cancer recurrence.
- Treating metastatic cancer: If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes or distant organs, radioactive iodine therapy can target and destroy these cancer cells.
- Detecting residual cancer: Radioactive iodine therapy can also be used as a diagnostic tool to detect any remaining cancer cells after surgery. A whole-body scan is performed to identify areas where radioactive iodine is being absorbed, indicating the presence of cancer cells.
What to expect during radioactive iodine therapy?
Radioactive iodine therapy is typically administered on an outpatient basis. Here is what you can expect during the treatment process:
- Dietary restrictions: Prior to the therapy, you may be required to follow a low-iodine diet for a specific period. This diet helps to reduce the levels of iodine in your body, making the thyroid cells more receptive to radioactive iodine.
- Radiation precautions: After receiving the radioactive iodine capsule or liquid, you may be advised to follow certain precautions to minimize radiation exposure to others. This may include limiting contact with pregnant women, young children, and close proximity to others for a certain period.
- Side effects: Common side effects of radioactive iodine therapy may include fatigue, dry mouth, changes in taste, nausea, and swelling or tenderness in the neck area. These side effects are usually temporary and subside over time.
- Follow-up care: After the therapy, regular follow-up visits will be scheduled to monitor your progress. This may include blood tests, imaging scans, and thyroid hormone replacement therapy, if necessary.
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