The thyroid gland is highly susceptible to radiation carcinogenesis and exposure to high-dose ionising radiation is the only established cause of thyroid cancer. Dental radiography, a common source of low-dose diagnostic radiation exposure in the general population, is often overlooked as a radiation hazard to the gland and may be associated with the risk of thyroid cancer. An increased risk of thyroid cancer has been reported in dentists, dental assistants, and x-ray workers; and exposure to dental x-rays has been associated with an increased risk of meningiomas and salivary tumours.
Methods: To examine whether exposure to dental x-rays was associated with the risk of thyroid cancer, we conducted a population-based case-control interview study among 313 patients with thyroid cancer and a similar number of individually matched (year of birth +/- three years, gender, nationality, district of residence) control subjects in Kuwait.
Results: Conditional logistic regression analysis, adjusted for other upper-body x-rays, showed that exposure to dental x-rays was significantly associated with an increased risk of thyroid cancer (odds ratio = 2.1, 95% confidence interval: 1.4, 3.1) (p=0.001) with a dose-response pattern (p for trend <0.0001). The association did not vary appreciably by age, gender, nationality, level of education, or parity.
Discussion: These findings, based on self-report by cases/controls, provide some support to the hypothesis that exposure to dental x-rays, particularly multiple exposures, may be associated with an increased risk of thyroid cancer; and warrant further study in settings where historical dental x-ray records may be available.