We used a combination of radioiodine scanning and quantitative radiation dosimetry to evaluate responses to therapeutic irradiation with 131I in 76 patients with thyroid adenocarcinoma. Fifty patients received 131I treatment for ablation of residual thyroid tissue after surgical thyroidectomy, and 26 had 131I treatment for metastatic thyroid cancer. Successful ablation was observed in patients receiving higher radiation doses to the thyroid--about 4.4 times those in patients whose lesions were not ablated--largely because of a longer effective half-life of 131I in residual thyroid tissue in the patients with ablated lesions. Patients with metastases that persisted after 131I therapy tended to have more advanced disease and received significantly lower radiation doses per millicurie of administered 131I than did persons whose lesions responded to treatment. Initial 131I treatment resulting in radiation doses of at least 30,000 rad to thyroid remnants and 8000 rad to metastases was associated with a significant increase in the rate of response to therapy.