What is the role of radiation in the etiology of papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC)?

Updated: Jun 18, 2020
  • Author: Ponnandai S Somasundar, MD, MPH, FACS; Chief Editor: Neetu Radhakrishnan, MD  more...
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The thyroid is particularly sensitive to the effects of ionizing radiation. Both accidental and medical exposure to ionizing radiation has been linked to increased risk for thyroid cancer.

Approximately 7% of individuals exposed to the atomic bombs in Japan developed thyroid cancers. [18] Individuals, especially children, who lived in Ukraine during the time of the Chernobyl nuclear event may have increased risk of papillary thyroid cancer. [19]

From 1920-1960, therapeutic irradiation was used to treat tumors and benign conditions, including acne; excessive facial hair; tuberculosis in the neck; fungus diseases of the scalp; sore throats; chronic coughs; and enlargement of the thymus, tonsils, and adenoids. Approximately 10% of individuals who were treated with head and neck irradiation for such disorders developed thyroid cancer after a latency period of 30 years.

Exposure to diagnostic x-ray beams does not increase the risk of developing thyroid cancers. However, patients who receive radiotherapy for certain types of head and neck cancer, especially during childhood, may have an increased risk of developing thyroid cancer.

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