Radioiodine Treatment and Thyroid Hormone Suppression Therapy for Differentiated Thyroid Carcinoma: Adverse Effects Support the Trend toward Less Aggressive Treatment for Low-Risk Patients

Eur Thyroid J. 2015 Jun;4(2):82-92. doi: 10.1159/000432397. Epub 2015 Jun 11.


Over the past decades, the incidence of differentiated thyroid carcinoma (DTC) has steadily increased, with especially a growing number of low-risk patients. Whereas DTC used to be treated rather aggressively, it is now acknowledged that aggressive treatment does not affect outcome for low-risk patients and that it can induce adverse effects. In this review an overview of the most clinically relevant adverse effects of radioiodine treatment and thyroid hormone suppression therapy (THST) is presented, and the trend toward less aggressive treatment for low-risk patients is outlined. Salivary gland dysfunction occurs in roughly 30% of patients, and is probably due to the concentration of radioiodine in the salivary glands by the sodium/iodide symporter. Beta radiation from radioiodine can result in sialoadenitis and eventually fibrosis and loss of salivary function. Furthermore, patients can experience bone marrow dysfunction following radioiodine treatment. Although this is in general subclinical and transient, patients that receive very high cumulative radioiodine doses may be at risk for more severe bone marrow dysfunction. THST can induce adverse cardiovascular effects in patients with DTC, such as diastolic and systolic dysfunction, and also adverse vascular and prothrombotic effects have been described. Finally, the effects of THST on bone formation and resorption are outlined; especially postmenopausal women with DTC on THST seem to be at risk of bone loss. In the past years, advances have been made in preventing low-risk patients from being overtreated. Improved biomarkers are still needed to further optimize risk stratification and personalize medicine.

Keywords: Adverse effects; Differentiated thyroid carcinoma; Low-risk patients; Radioiodine treatment; Thyroid hormone suppression therapy.

Publication types

  • Review