Patterns of radioiodine uptake by the lactating breast

Eur J Nucl Med. 1994 Jul;21(7):604-8. doi: 10.1007/BF00285581.


Breast uptake of radioiodine, if not suspected, may be misinterpreted as thyroid cancer metastasis to the lung. To characterize the patterns of radioiodine breast uptake, we retrospectively studied 20 radioiodine scans that were performed within 1 week of cessation of breast feeding. Four patterns of uptake were identified: "full", "focal", "crescent" and "irregular". The uptake was asymmetric in 60% (left > right in 45%, right > left in 15%), symmetric in 25% and unilateral in 15% of cases. A characteristic full bilateral uptake was present in 40% of cases. In three cases with the irregular pattern, caused in part by external contamination with radioactive milk, the uptake closely mimicked lung metastases. Delayed images, obtained in one case, showed an apparent radioiodine shift from the breast to the thyroid, suggesting that the presence of breast uptake can modulate radioiodine uptake by thyroid tissue. In a case of unilateral breast uptake, a history of mastitis was obtained, which to our knowledge has not been previously reported. Breast uptake of radioiodine may take several scintigraphic patterns that are not always characteristic of the lactating breast and may affect the apparent extent of thyroid remnant/metastasis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast / diagnostic imaging*
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iodine Radioisotopes*
  • Lactation
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Lung Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Mastitis / diagnostic imaging
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / pathology*


  • Iodine Radioisotopes