Estimation of Second Primary Cancer Risk After Treatment with Radioactive Iodine for Differentiated Thyroid Carcinoma

Thyroid. 2017 Feb;27(2):261-270. doi: 10.1089/thy.2016.0266. Epub 2016 Nov 21.


Background: An increase in the incidence of second primary cancers is the late effect of greatest concern that could occur in differentiated thyroid carcinoma (DTC) patients treated with radioactive iodine (RAI). The decision to treat a patient with RAI should therefore incorporate a careful risk-benefit analysis. The objective of this work was to adapt the risk-estimation models developed by the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation Committee to local epidemiological characteristics in order to assess the carcinogenesis risk from radiation in a population of Brazilian DTC patients treated with RAI. Absorbed radiation doses in critical organs were also estimated to determine whether they exceeded the thresholds for deterministic effects.

Methods: A total of 416 DTC patients treated with RAI were retrospectively studied. Four organs were selected for absorbed dose estimation and subsequent calculation of carcinogenic risk: the kidney, stomach, salivary glands, and bone marrow. Absorbed doses were calculated by dose factors (absorbed dose per unit activity administered) previously established and based on standard human models. The lifetime attributable risk (LAR) of incidence of cancer as a function of age, sex, and organ-specific dose was estimated, relating it to the activity of RAI administered in the initial treatment.

Results: The salivary glands received the greatest absorbed doses of radiation, followed by the stomach, kidney, and bone marrow. None of these, however, surpassed the threshold for deterministic effects for a single administration of RAI. Younger patients received the same level of absorbed dose in the critical organs as older patients did. The lifetime attributable risk for stomach cancer incidence was by far the highest, followed in descending order by salivary-gland cancer, leukemia, and kidney cancer.

Conclusion: RAI in a single administration is safe in terms of deterministic effects because even high-administered activities do not result in absorbed doses that exceed the thresholds for significant tissue reactions. The Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation Committee mathematical models are a practical method of quantifying the risks of a second primary cancer, demonstrating a marked decrease in risk for younger patients with the administration of lower RAI activities and suggesting that only the smallest activities necessary to promote an effective ablation should be administered in low-risk DTC patients.

Keywords: estimation models; radiation carcinogenesis; radioactive iodine therapy; second primary cancer; thyroid cancer.

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma, Follicular / radiotherapy*
  • Adenoma, Oxyphilic / radiotherapy*
  • Adult
  • Bone Marrow Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Brazil / epidemiology
  • Carcinoma, Papillary / radiotherapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Iodine Radioisotopes / therapeutic use*
  • Kidney Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Leukemia / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms, Second Primary / epidemiology*
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Radiometry
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Salivary Gland Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Stomach Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Thyroid Cancer, Papillary
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / radiotherapy*


  • Iodine Radioisotopes

Supplementary concepts

  • Thyroid cancer, Hurthle cell
  • Thyroid cancer, follicular