Radiation dose rates from patients receiving iodine-131 therapy for carcinoma of the thyroid

Eur J Nucl Med. 1996 Feb;23(2):123-30. doi: 10.1007/BF01731834.


Patients treated with radioiodine present a radiation hazard and precautions are necessary to limit the radiation dose to family members, nursing staff and members of the public. The precautions advised are usually based on instantaneous dose rates or iodine retention and do not take into account the time spent in close proximity with a patient. We have combined whole-body dose rate measurements taken from 86 thyroid cancer patients after radioiodine administration with published data on nursing and social contact times to calculate the cumulative dose that may be received by an individual in contact with a patient. These dose estimates have been used to calculate restrictions to patients behaviour to limit received doses to less than 1 mSv. We have also measured urinary iodide excretion in 19 patients to estimate the potential risk from the discharge of radioiodide into the domestic drainage system. The dose rate decay was biexponential for patients receiving radioiodine to ablate the thyroid after surgery (the ablation group, A) and monoexponential for these receiving subsequent treatments for residual or recurrent disease (the follow-up group, FU). The faster clearance in the follow-up patients generally resulted in less stringent restrictions than those advised for ablation patients. For typical activities of 1850 MBq for the ablation patients and 3700 MBq or 7400 MBq for the follow-up patients, the following restrictions were advised. Patients could travel in a private car for up to 8h on the day of treatment (for an administered activity of 1850 MBq in group A) or 4 and 2h (for activities of 3700 or 7400 MBq in group FU) respectively. Patients should remain off work for 3 days (1850 MBq/group A) or 2 days (up to 7400 MBq/group FU). Partners should avoid close contact and sleep apart for 16 days (1850 MBq/group A) or 4-5 days (3700 or 7400 MBq/group FU). Contact with children should be restricted according to their age, ranging from 16 days (1850 MBq/group A) or 4-5 days (3700 or 7400 MBq in group FU) for younger children, down to 10 days (1850 MBq/group A) or 4 days (up to 7400 MBq/group FU) for older children. The cumulative dose to nursing staff for the week after treatment was dependent on patient mobility and was estimated at 0.08 mSv for a self-caring patient to 6.3 mSv for a totally helpless patient (1840 MBq/group A). Corresponding doses to nurses looking after patients in group FU were 0.18-12.3 mSv (3700 MBq) or 0.36-24.6 mSv (7400 MBq). Sensible guidelines can be derived to limit the dose received by members of the public and staff who may come into contact with cancer patient treated with radioiodine to less than 1 mSv. The rapid clearance of radioiodine in patients treated on one or more than one occasion means that therapy could be administered at home to selected patients with suitable domestic circumstances. In most cases the restriction times, despite the high administered activities, are less than those for patients treated for thyrotoxicosis. The concentration of radioiodide in domestic drainage systems should not pose a significant risk.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Family
  • Humans
  • Iodine Radioisotopes / adverse effects
  • Iodine Radioisotopes / therapeutic use*
  • Iodine Radioisotopes / urine
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital
  • Radiation Dosage*
  • Radiation Protection*
  • Radiometry
  • Risk Factors
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Time Factors


  • Iodine Radioisotopes