Radioiodine 131I is a radioactive isotope of iodine. It is given either in capsule or liquid form to the patient. Once in the body, 131I reacts mostly with the thyroid cells, as the thyroid hormone produced by our body is the mixture of iodine and tyrosine. It circulates inside our body through the blood, but is not absorbed by the other cells. Hence, radioiodine treatment does not harm any part of the patient's body. But, it may not be effective for every thyroid cancer patient. You need to first try a small dose, prescribed by your physician to check whether the cancer cells are getting destroyed.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Thyroid cancer is a rare type caused due to the abnormal growth of cells inside the gland. Unfortunately, the exact cause is not known, but it can be due to excessive exposure to radiation or because of some uncommon changes in the DNA of your cells. Some of the symptoms that might arise include:
- Swelling in the neck
- Pain in the ears or neck
- A frequent cough that does not develop into cold
- Difficulty in breathing
- Trouble swallowing eatables
Sometimes, you may not experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms. In such a case, you are told by your physician to test for cancerous cells inside your thyroid gland. This is done by removing a part of the gland with a needle, and then testing it for cancerous cells. If some symptoms of thyroid cancer are observed, then you would be either told to undergo a surgery or radioactive iodine treatment.
There are some precautions that need to be taken around 14 days before you start your treatment. You will mostly be prescribed a low iodine diet. Cherries, strawberries, beet, and other pink-colored food (sweets or pastries that are pink in color) should be avoided. Also, avoid eating sea food. Eggs, salami, and other food items with iodine should be eaten in smaller amounts. Cook food with less salt and then consume. Furthermore, milk and milk products should be consumed in less amounts.
Radioactive Iodine Therapy
This therapy is generally prescribed if your cancer cells are not completely killed post surgery, if the thyroid cancer has spread excessively, or has come back after the initial treatment. A general way of treating it is by giving the radioiodine in the form of a capsule or liquid. Sometimes, 131I is injected in the patient's arm. But, before this, a total body scan along with some blood tests is taken, and then the dosage of 131I is decided accordingly. If a large dose is prescribed, you may be hospitalized.
You can have any food that is low in iodine one hour before the treatment. After it is given, you will not be allowed to eat or drink for some hours, to allow your body to consume the iodine. Drink a lot of juice or water after a few hours so that the given radioiodine can be flushed out of the body. Another body scan is taken, mostly on the third day, to check the decrease of radiation levels in your body and the things around you, if you were hospitalized.
There are very few side effects, which can be avoided if proper care is taken during the treatment.
- You might suffer from sore throat for a few days after the treatment. This is because of the swelling of the salivary glands by the 131I. It can be treated by any painkiller.
- If you are given a high dose, then you might vomit.
- You may also get a headache. Have a painkiller prescribed for headaches in such cases.
- Feeling feverish or developing mild nausea is also one of the side effects of this treatment. Do not eat anything for about 2 - 3 hours after the iodine is injected in your body.
Precautions After Treatment
After the treatment, you need to follow some precautions to avoid the exposure of radiation to others.
- Till the radiation levels come to normal, drink at least 10 glasses of water every day. This will help the 131I to flush out through urine. Also, flush the toilet more than once to minimize the amount of radiation through urine. Wash the toilet, bathroom, bathtub, washbasin, shower, and sink whenever you use them.
- The patient's clothes, washcloths, towels, and linens need to be kept separately and washed properly after each use.
- There are chances of the exposure to radiation by plates and glasses too. Keep a separate set of cutlery for yourself, and wash them before and after eating. Eat in paper plates; they are easy to dispose.
- If you plan to cook after your treatment, then do not taste the food. Tell someone else to taste it.
- Your family members can be exposed to the radiation when you are in close contact with them. Therefore, avoid living in close proximity with children and family members. Sleep away from your partner for a few days, and also avoid getting intimate with him/her.
- Lastly, wash and dry your hands properly before and after you touch anything in your house. Keep a set of towels for yourself, and use them for drying your hands.
This treatment is effective when proper precautions are taken. If a low-iodine diet is maintained before treatment, then you can be safe from the complications involved in it.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.