Thyroid cancer is increasing in the United States, but with state-of-the-art treatment, it is a highly curable disease. At St. Clair Hospital, treatment of thyroid cancer is multifaceted and involves a team of specialty physicians, including board-certified radiologist and nuclear medicine specialist, Frank Torok, M.D. Nuclear medicine, which involves the administration of radioactive compounds orally or by injection, has both diagnostic and therapeutic applications. Dr. Torok specializes in using radioactive iodine to diagnose and treat thyroid diseases. Hyperthyroidism and thyroid cancer are among those he treats most frequently.
Risk factors for thyroid cancer include exposure to radiation at a young age. “Radiation therapy was formerly used to treat acne,” says Dr. Torok, “and to radiate the thymus gland in infants when it was mistakenly believed in the past that it was pathologically too large.”
Although most thyroid nodules are benign, thyroid cancer typically presents as a nodule or lump in the neck. A thyroidectomy is a delicate procedure, as the thyroid is located at the base of the neck, very close to the airway, and is surrounded by a network of nerves that control the vocal cords. Radiation and chemotherapy are not effective against thyroid cancer, so to make certain that all cancer cells are eliminated, the surgery is followed by a single treatment with radioactive iodine about six weeks post-operatively.
Radioactive iodine is effective because the thyroid has what Dr. Torok calls “a ravenous appetite” for iodine. It uses iodine from the foods that we eat to produce a hormone called thyroxine, or T4—the hormone that plays a critical role in the body, regulating the metabolism. Radioactive iodine is attracted to the thyroid cells and thyroid cancer cells, and destroys them preferentially, lessening damage to any other cells.
To contact the Nuclear Medicine/Medical Imaging departments at St. Clair Hospital, please call 412-942-3100.