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Radioactive Iodine
February 2003

Q. Can you tell me if any danger exists for other family members, especially children, after someone has received a large dose of radioactive iodine for thyroid cancer treatment and has just come home from the hospital? Would it be advisable to stay out of the home for a period of time and what specifically are the risks to others who might be exposed? Can you help?

A. Iodine is a dietary substance, found in iodized salt for example, that is taken up by the thyroid gland to allow normal thyroid hormone production. When the thyroid becomes overactive or certain types of thyroid cancer develop, iodine can be made radioactive and used for treatment to destroy the abnormal thyroid tissue.

It is true that for a time, small amounts of the radioactivity can be detected outside the body of the person who received treatment. It is thought that the amount leaving the body is small enough and short-acting that the risk to others is minimal, but your concern is valid.

There was recently a case in the news of such a patient activating radiation detectors in a New York subway station. Ask your doctor about any precautions needed for those in the same household.



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