Radiotherapy-induced thyroid disorders

Cancer Treat Rev. 2004 Jun;30(4):369-84. doi: 10.1016/j.ctrv.2003.12.003.


Despite their specific functional consequences, radiotherapy-induced thyroid abnormalities remain under-estimated and underreported. These sequelae may include primary or central hypothyroidism, thyroiditis, Graves' disease, euthyroid Graves' ophthalmopathy, benign adenomas, multinodular goitre and radiation-induced thyroid carcinoma. Primary hypothyroidism, the most common radiation-induced thyroid dysfunction, affects 20-30% of patients administered following curative radiotherapy to the neck region, with approximately half of the events occurring within the first 5 years after therapy. The relative risk of radiation-induced cancer (mainly well-differentiated tumours) is 15-53-fold higher than in non-irradiated population. The aetiology of radiation-induced thyroid injury includes vascular damage, parenchymal cell damage and auto-immune reactions. Total radiotherapy dose, irradiated volume of the thyroid gland, and the extent of prior thyroid resection are among the most important factors associated with the risk of hypothyroidism. The contribution of other treatment modalities (chemotherapy, endocrine therapy) as well as patient- and tumour-related factors is less clear. Reduction in radiation dose to the thyroid gland and hypothalamic/pituitary complex should be attempted whenever possible. New radiotherapy techniques, such as stereotactic radiosurgery, three-dimensional conformal irradiation, intensity modulated radiotherapy and proton therapy allow generally better dose distribution with lower dose to the non-target organs. The diagnostic approach to thyroid radiation injury includes baseline thyroid function assays in all patients undergoing thyroid or parasellar irradiation. Recommended follow-up procedures include at least annual evaluation with a history for symptoms of thyroid dysfunction, clinical examination, and measurement of thyroid hormones and thyrotropin. Management of overt hypothyroidism is based on hormone replacement therapy. Thyroid hormone therapy is also recommended in cases of subclinical hypothyroidism. Treatment of other radiation-induced thyroid disorders (thyroiditis, Graves' disease, thyroid cancer) is similar to that employed in spontaneously occurring conditions. Further improvements in radiotherapy techniques and progress in endocrine diagnostics and therapy may allow better prevention and management of radiation-related thyroid injury.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma / etiology
  • Carcinoma / etiology
  • Goiter, Nodular / etiology
  • Graves Disease / etiology
  • Humans
  • Hypothyroidism / etiology
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects*
  • Radiotherapy Dosage
  • Radiotherapy, Conformal / adverse effects
  • Risk Assessment
  • Thyroid Diseases / etiology*
  • Thyroid Diseases / prevention & control
  • Thyroid Gland / radiation effects*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / etiology
  • Thyroiditis / etiology