Importance: Few studies have evaluated the association of radiation dose with thyroid nodules among adults exposed to radiation in childhood.
Objective: To evaluate radiation dose responses on the prevalence of thyroid nodules in atomic bomb survivors exposed in childhood.
Design, setting, and participants: This survey study investigated 3087 Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb survivors who were younger than 10 years at exposure and participated in the thyroid study of the Adult Health Study at the Radiation Effects Research Foundation. Thyroid examinations including thyroid ultrasonography were conducted between October 2007 and October 2011, and solid nodules underwent fine-needle aspiration biopsy. Data from 2668 participants (86.4% of the total participants; mean age, 68.2 years; 1213 men; and 1455 women) with known atomic bomb thyroid radiation doses (mean dose, 0.182 Gy; median dose, 0.018 Gy; dose range, 0-4.040 Gy) were analyzed.
Main outcomes and measures: The prevalence of all thyroid nodules having a diameter of 10 mm or more (consisting of solid nodules [malignant and benign] and cysts), prevalence of small thyroid nodules that were less than 10 mm in diameter detected by ultrasonography, and atomic bomb radiation dose-responses.
Results: Thyroid nodules with a diameter of 10 mm or more were identified in 470 participants (17.6%): solid nodules (427 cases [16.0%]), malignant tumors (47 cases [1.8%]), benign nodules (186 cases [7.0%]), and cysts (49 cases [1.8%]), and all were significantly associated with thyroid radiation dose. Excess odds ratios per gray unit were 1.65 (95% CI, 0.89-2.64) for all nodules, 1.72 (95% CI, 0.93-2.75) for solid nodules, 4.40 (95% CI, 1.75-9.97) for malignant tumors, 2.07 (95% CI, 1.16-3.39) for benign nodules, and 1.11 (95% CI, 0.15-3.12) for cysts. The interaction between age at exposure and the dose was significant for the prevalence of all nodules (P = .003) and solid nodules (P < .001), indicating that dose effects were significantly higher with earlier childhood exposure. No interactions were seen for sex, family history of thyroid disease, antithyroid antibodies, or seaweed intake. No dose-response relationships were observed for small (<10-mm diameter) thyroid nodules.
Conclusions and relevance: Radiation effects on thyroid nodules exist in atomic bomb survivors 62 to 66 years after their exposure in childhood. However, radiation exposure is not associated with small thyroid nodules.