What Is Thyroid Radiation and How to Prevent It?

Historically, thyroid radiation was the first instance that a quantified dose was received as a risk factor for solid cancers. This was based on observations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb survivors, and patients undergoing radiation treatment for head and neck diseases. These studies identified distinct gamma-ray and x-ray threshold radiation doses for all cancerous tumors of the thyroid.

Medical practitioners and other radiologic workers at risk of exposure to scatter radiation should take measures to guard their radiosensitive thyroid glands. Unnecessary exposure to ionizing radiation not for medical treatment purposes can and should be avoided by wearing a thyroid shield collar.

Thyroid Radiation: An Overview

Exposure of the thyroid to ionizing radiation is a clearly defined factor in the development of benign and malignant thyroid tumors. The risk of thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer also strongly correlates with age at exposure. If exposed as a child, the risk persists throughout life. Radiation exposure also increases the risk of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).

The thyroid is considered one of the most radiosensitive parts of the body, with tumorigenesis occurring at doses as low as approximately 40 mGy. Developing thyroid cancer is rated as the third highest risk from exposure to ionizing electromagnetic radiation.

Interestingly, external radiation therapy is also one of the commonly used treatments for thyroid cancer. A tightly focused, high-energy beam targets any cancerous cells while avoiding healthy tissue around the tumor.

To understand the potential effects of radiation on the thyroid gland, let’s examine the workings and structure of this crucial organ.

The Thyroid Gland: Its Function and Importance

The thyroid gland consists of two lobes joined together in the middle, closely resembling the shape of a butterfly. It’s found wrapped around the front of the trachea (windpipe), at the base of the neck. This critical organ is often referred to as the master gland of the endocrine system. It synthesizes vital hormones that regulate or influence virtually every metabolic process in the body.

The thyroid’s primary function is the production of thyroid hormone. This is actually a combination of thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). T4 is largely inactive, whereas T3 is active. Other parts of the body, such as the liver, kidneys, and adipose fat cells convert T4 into T3.

Thyroid hormone influences the following processes:

  • Basal metabolic rate (BMR)
  • Heart rate
  • Body temperature
  • Peristalsis
  • Brain development
  • Muscle contraction
  • Skin and bone formation

The thyroid also manufactures another hormone called calcitonin. This lowers the amount of calcium in the blood. It works in conjunction with the parathyroid glands. These four tiny, pea-shaped structures nestle behind the lobes of the thyroid, one at each tip. Parathyroid hormone increases the amount of circulating calcium. Findings suggest that the parathyroid glands are even more sensitive to radiation than the thyroid gland.

What Are the Effects of Thyroid Radiation?

The harm caused by radiation occurs after occupational exposure, or as thyroid radiation side effects of treatment in patients. As the thyroid is intricately involved in metabolic control, any damage has serious consequences for other systems in the body.

Listed below are some abnormalities that result from thyroid radiation:

  • Hypothyroidism.
  • Thyroiditis.
  • Graves’ disease.
  • Euthyroid Graves’ ophthalmopathy.
  • Benign adenomas.
  • Multinodular goiter.
  • Thyroid carcinomas.

Cancer is a notable concern. Studies indicate that exposing the thyroid to radiation drastically increases the relative risk of developing thyroid cancer by 15 to 53-fold. Approximately half of these cancers arise in the first 5 years after exposure.

How to Prevent Thyroid Exposure to Radiation?

Every radiation dose carries a small risk of harm and all doses are cumulative. The best way to prevent thyroid exposure to scatter radiation is to wear a thyroid collar with a core material of lead or a lead-free equivalent.

  1. Radiologic professionals: If you routinely wear a protective lead apron, then always pair it with a thyroid shield.
  2. Patients: Request a thyroid collar for dental, spine, head, neck, or chest x-rays.

Not all thyroid shields are created equal. Look for the following features in a thyroid collar:

  • It covers the base of your neck.
  • It’s comfortable and secure.
  • There’s preferably no gap between it and your lead apron.
  • It offers 0.5 mm lead equivalence.

Barrier Technologies® offers three top-quality thyroid shield collars for your peace of mind and convenience all available with our patented MagnaGuard velcro-free closure:

  • Boomerang Thyroid Shield: Our standard collar.
  • Visor Thyroid Shield: With enhanced neck protection.
  • Disposable Thyroid Shield: Ideal for short-term personnel and patients.

A Final Note on Radioactive Iodine

Let’s digress from discussing the deleterious effects of electromagnetic radiation on the thyroid. Radioactive iodine is another potential mutagen that no thyroid collar can shield against. Here at Barrier Technologies, your safety is our priority. Providing information may protect you where our products can’t!

  1. Radioactive iodine exposure:
    The thyroid gland actively absorbs the essential ion, iodide (I–) from the bloodstream. It requires a significant 75 μg daily to manufacture thyroid hormone. However, it can’t differentiate between stable iodine-127 (I-127) and radioactive iodine-131 (I-131). I-131 is one of the main carcinogenic radionuclides released by a nuclear event.Decades after the catastrophic Chernobyl disaster, I-131 is still causing thyroid cancers in inhabitants who were children at that time.
  2. Preventing thyroid exposure to radioactive iodine:
    The only way to stop the thyroid from absorbing a harmful dose of I-131 is to saturate it with regular iodine before or very soon after exposure. This is administered as tablets of an iodine salt, potassium iodide (KI).
  3. Radioactive iodine treatment for thyroid cancer:
    Kill or cure? As with ionizing electromagnetic radiation, the culprit can become the treatment! Curiously, a high dose of I-131 can be therapeutic as it kills cells outright, rather than causing mutations. Radioiodine is used to kill targeted cells in thyroid cancer radiation therapy and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).

Protect Your Thyroid from Radiation Exposure

Barrier Technologies is dedicated to informing and protecting you against harmful thyroid radiation. You must shield your delicate thyroid gland against possible damage and minimize the risk of life-altering diseases. Wearing a thyroid collar is an essential defense against the hazards of scatter radiation.

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