Papillary microcarcinoma of the thyroid among atomic bomb survivors

Tumor characteristics and radiation risk

Authors


  • See editorial on pages 1626–8.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Radiation exposure is an established cause of clinical thyroid cancer, but little is known about radiation effects on papillary microcarcinoma (PMC) of the thyroid, a relatively common subclinical thyroid malignancy. Because the incidence of these small thyroid cancers has been increasing, it is important to better understand them and their relation to radiation.

METHODS:

PMCs were identified in a subset of 7659 members of the Life Span Study of atomic bomb survivors who had archived autopsy or surgical materials. We conducted a pathology review of these specimens and evaluated the histological features of the tumors and the association between PMCs and thyroid radiation dose.

RESULTS:

From 1958 to 1995, 458 PMCs were detected among 313 study subjects. The majority of cancers exhibited pathologic features of papillary thyroid cancers. Overall, 81% of the PMCs were of the sclerosing variant and 91% were nonencapsulated, psammoma bodies that occurred in 13% and calcification was observed in 23%. Over 95% had papillary or papillary-follicular architecture and most displayed nuclear overlap, clear nuclei, and nuclear grooves. Several of these features increased with increasing tumor size, but no association was found with radiation dose. A significant radiation-dose response was found for the prevalence of PMCs (estimated excess odds ratio/Gy = 0.57; 95% confidence interval, 0.01-1.55), with the excess risk observed primarily among women.

CONCLUSIONS:

Exposure to low-to-moderate doses of ionizing radiation appears to increase the risk of thyroid PMCs, even when exposure occurs during adulthood. Cancer 2010. © 2010 American Cancer Society.

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