Background: The incidence of thyroid cancers has been rising in the United States primarily due to the increased detection of well differentiated thyroid cancers (WDTC). Radioactive iodine (RAI), which is frequently used to treat WDTC, can be considered a circulating radiation emitter with the potential for mutagenic effects on hematopoietic stem cells. With a growing number of WDTC patients (pts) surviving long term following RAI therapy, establishing the risk of developing a myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) in this cohort has important clinical implications.

Methods: A novel R program, SEERaBomb (Radiat Environ Biophys. 2014;53(1):55-63) was used to query all 18 Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) registries to identify WDTC cases treated with RAI and MDS as second cancers. SEERaBomb allows merging of all 18 SEER registries - a function not permitted by the SEER*Stat MP-SIR that limits researchers to use to one of two datasets (SEER 9 or SEER 13), thereby significantly increasing the capture of MDS cases (Figure 1). WDTC includes papillary and follicular thyroid histologies. WDTC survivor person-years at risk for developing MDS was based on age at diagnosis of WDTC, survival time, and age at diagnosis of MDS. Relative risks (RR) for developing MDS were then based on observed/expected cases between the cohorts receiving surgery alone (control), surgery combined with RAI as well as those receiving external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) and surgery with or without (+/-) RAI. Mean radiation exposure to bone marrow was compared between RAI and prostate cancer (as example) treated with other radiation modalities - brachytherapy (seeds), EBRT (3D, IMRT and VMRT).

Results: In total 132,157 WDTC patients were identified from 1973-2011, of whom 69,975 (53%) received surgery alone, 59,015 (45%) underwent surgery + RAI and 3167 (2%) underwent EBRT [combined with surgery+/- adjuvant RAI]. Mean age at the time of WDTC diagnosis was: 49.4 years (yrs, range, 2-105) in the surgery group; 46.7 yrs (2-99) in the surgery + RAI group and 55.1 yrs (10-101) in the EBRT group. Median person years of follow up after WDTC diagnosis was: 6.1 yrs (2.5-11.6) in pts undergoing thyroidectomy; 5.4 yrs (2.4-9.7) in the surgery + RAI group and 5.9 yrs (1.7-11) in the EBRT group. A total of 55 patients developed MDS; 24 had surgery alone, 27 received surgery + RAI and 4 had EBRT. Median time to development of MDS after WDTM diagnosis (25-75 interquartile range) was: 6.4 yrs (4-15) in pts receiving surgery alone; 4 yrs (1.7-6.7) in the surgery + RAI group and 3.6 yrs (2.4-7.9) in the EBRT group. MDS cases were classified as RA (n=11), RARS (n=2), RCMD (n=3), RAEB (n=9), MDS with 5q deletion syndrome (n=1), and MDS-U (n=29). Compared to patients definitively treated with surgery, those who additionally received RAI (+/- EBRT) had a statistically significantly increased risk of developing MDS within the first two years of exposure (RR=1.9; 95% CI, 0.43-5.61 vs. RR=5.8; 95% CI, 2.84-12.22). Beyond 2 years, the risk for MDS drops to baseline rates, and a trend observed beyond 12 years, which did not reach statistical significance (Figure 2).

Conclusion: WDTC pts undergoing RAI treatment appear to have an increased risk of developing MDS within the first two years of exposure to RAI. It is difficult to determine whether this early excess risk is true risk or an effect of ascertainment bias (RAI pts followed more closely), as the kinetics of RAI indicate a lower magnitude of bone marrow exposure compared to other radiation modalities (Figure 3). Considering the long latency of MDS seen in atomic bomb cohorts, relative young age of WDTC pts, current trend towards overdiagnosis and overtreatment of WDTCÕs, MDS rates are likely to continue to rise.


Sekeres:Celgene Corporation: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Amgen: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; TetraLogic: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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