Research makes thyroid cancer treatment safer and shorter news
04 May 2012

A new gold standard for thyroid cancer treatment has been set, reducing radiation doses to just one third of the current level, according to research from the CRUK-UCL Cancer Trials Centre. The results are published in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

Patients currently have surgery to remove the entire thyroid gland. A few weeks later they take a capsule containing radioactive iodine, which destroys any remaining healthy thyroid gland tissue and any potential cancer cells.

Improvements in surgery mean more of the thyroid gland is removed during the operation, leaving fewer remaining cells to be 'mopped up' - so lower radiation doses are adequate and equally effective.

The HiLo trial of 438 patients at hospitals across the UK, led by researchers at UCL's Cancer Institute, showed that giving selected patients a much lower dose of radioactive iodine* in a single oral capsule delivers similar treatment success to the current higher dose - destroying all thyroid gland cells remaining after surgery, with fewer side effects.

''HiLo is a seminal trial that will affect how most thyroid cancer patients will be treated... Future patients will have a shorter and safer treatment,'' said Professor Allan Hackshaw of CRUK-UCL Cancer Trials Centre.

The higher doses of radioactive iodine previously thought necessary meant that patients had to stay in a hospital isolation unit for at least two days while the radiation left their bodies, without physical contact from family and friends. These high doses could have several side effects - the more serious of which occur later in life, such as a permanent dry mouth, and a small chance that a new cancer will develop.

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Research makes thyroid cancer treatment safer and shorter