10 responses to “Thyroid Cancer Treatment Affects the Abled, Healthy. Everyone Panic!”

  1. Kate

    This is exactly what I was thinking when I stumbled on the article last night in the NY Times. You captured my thought process precisely.

  2. jules

    You might want to make it a little more clear in your post — this is only the type of radiation treatment that involves injecting radioactive iodine into the bloodstream, not the (more common??) type of radiation that involves a directed blast given to the patient.

    I’ve been through several daily-for-six-weeks cycles of the latter type, and I was a little freaked when I read this because no doctorly types had ever mentioned the possibility of other people getting contaminated.

    This whole thing seems pretty stupid and really, really insensitive. “We’re not sure if the teeny amounts of radiation coming out of someone’s sweat who has been PUMPED FULL OF IT will possibly cause a small amount of harm to other people or not”… well, fuck you! You’re not the one having it shot purposefully into your body!

  3. lilacsigil

    I’m shortly going to have this treatment – at the highest dose for thyroid cancer, not the lower dose for hyperthyroid – and it’s not done with an overnight stay hospital here, and hasn’t been for many years. It’s different to other forms of radiation treatment (because of the thyroid’s uptake of iodine) and doesn’t usually require sterile conditions. Honestly, I’d rather go home. Of course, I’m 2 hours away from the hospital (and there’s no public transport), so if I didn’t have someone to drive me I would have to stay in a hotel.

    I’ve got instructions to use my own cutlery and plates, to wash my clothes separately, and flush the toilet twice. I must not be close to other people for 2 days after the treatment, and after that not let anyone near my face and neck. That’s it. I’m not poisoning people unless I spit, sweat or urinate on them, and I don’t plan to do that!

    If thyroid patients are banned from travel and public transport, we’ll have to be in hospital because they’ll have no way of leaving, and I’m sure that’s not going to be happening any time soon. Maybe they should set up a nice lead-lined room?

  4. Anna

    Lilacsigil, it sounds similar to what Don was cautioned about, but his cautions seem to have been a lot more… intense. Part of why we argued (successfully, finally) to have Don stay in hospital for the entirety of his radioactive period was because the “stay a distance away from other people” distance in Canada is roughly the distance between where Don and I would both be sitting in this rather tiny apartment if we both sat in different rooms. Also, he wasn’t allowed to use the same washroom at all, and we only have one washroom.

    Of course, once we successfully argued that he had to stay in hospital for the entirety of his radioactive period, they changed their tune about how long it would be, how radioactive was too radioactive to be around other people, and also kept arguing that despite having agreed to the stay six months before, three months before, two weeks before, and the day that he got his radioactive pill in the lead case, they didn’t have to keep him because, you know, no one knew. Even people who on Monday had agreed didn’t know by Wednesday. It was amazing.

    (That sentence is a bit hard to unravel. In short: They kept saying “Oh, yes, I see on your records that you’re to stay until Friday”, and then every single day of his stay would say “So, leaving tonight, right?” and he would remind them that no, he was staying until Friday. Because he was too radioactive to come home. And then they’d say he wasn’t too radioactive to come home.)

  5. lilacsigil

    @Anna – true, I’m in rural Australia, and space is not a problem for most people here! The toilet is the only room in the house where we couldn’t be more than three feet away from each other. I don’t need assistance with most daily activities, so I won’t be putting any care workers/family members/staff at risk.

    That “send him home!” problem sounds ridiculous and an unfair strain on Don (and you) having to argue every single day to access the care which was already organised!

  6. Aris Merquoni

    Hi! Long time reader, first time commenter, here. I don’t have a lot of experience with thyroid treatment, but I did teach a class for Radiation Safety Officers which covered some discussion of radiation health physics and radiation treatments. So I know a little bit about radiation health regulations (Defined by 10CFR20 in the United States, other countries tend to take recent recommendations by the International Commission on Radiation Protection and the latest guidelines are called ICRP 103.) I can also speak a bit to the “fearmongering versus actual problem” issue, though not very much.

    Basically, in the US, federal guidelines for public exposure are set really, really low. A hospital is allowed, as an institution, to give someone 0.1 rem over the course of a year if they’re not a radiation worker or getting medical treatment. And if the hospital implants or injects a patient with a radiation source, such as radioactive iodine for thyroid treatment, the patient can only be released if the doctor is pretty sure they’re not going to give anyone else more than 0.5 rem over the course of their treatment. For a comparison, the amount of background radiation that you pick up over the course of one year is something between 0.3-0.4 rem, so that’s not that much above background. This is also way, way less radiation than will cause most direct adverse side effects such as hair loss and skin reddening–those start happening around 15-20 rem.

    The concern with iodine in particular, of course, is that your thyroid loves iodine and will collect it–so any radioactive iodine in your body will make its way to the thyroid. And that 0.5 rem dose that people visiting a patient are limited to actually has to take into account the radioactivity that they will absorb for all the iodine they’ve absorbed over the next 50 years.

    … which, I suppose, is a long-winded way to say that the hospitals probably have a legal obligation in the US to give patients a place to stay until the iodine has done its job, if they can’t be sure the patient can be properly isolated, even under the looser rules of 10CFR20 and 10CFR35 that Rep. Markey is complaining about. (10CFR35 is for medical use of radiological material, and where the “you can go home IF” regs come from. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has the entirety of Title 10 on their website here: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/cfr/ )

    And I’d say they also have a moral obligation to give those beds without charge, but when has the medical-industrial complex in the US been concerned about that? *sigh*

  7. Astrid

    I agree with what everyone else has said. It is unreasonable to expect cancer patients to avoid other people if they are not provided with a sterile environment. In the Netherlands, it would be impossible for people to avoid public transportation, etc. after radiation. It is kind of ableist that Congress is focusing on the healthy who might be possibly exposed to radiation rather than on how cancer patients can avoid exposing others to radiation with minimal inconvenience.

  8. DaisyDeadhead

    Doctors didn’t even tell me that *I* was being exposed to radiation, when they irradiated my thyroid.

    They said: Don’t eat tuna for a few days, it will mess up the thyroid scan.

    And that’s all.

    I had to study the subject myself to learn what they did to me.

  9. Penelope

    I had the lower dose radio active iodine treatment for hyperthyroidism about 6 years ago. I was told the whole long list of precautions I needed to take (no touching, use disposible plates, etc.) and told it was to last 3 days. We gave up after a day and a half because I was living with my parents and it was really hard. They couldn’t not use the car I’d been driven home in and we certainly were given no info about seperately disposing the plates, etc. I’d used.