Journal of radiation research 2017 10 24() 1-10 doi 10.1093/jrr/rrx054
The thyroid gland is vulnerable not only to external radiation but also to internal radiation, because the thyroid cells can incorporate radioactive iodine when synthesizing thyroid hormones. Since radiation-induction of thyroid neoplasia, including thyroid cancer, is well recognized, the data on radiation-related thyroid autoimmunity and dysfunction are summarized and reviewed. High-dose irradiation, irrespective of being external or internal, is strongly associated with a risk of hypothyroidism (with the prevalence ranging from 2.4% to 31%) and of Graves’ hyperthyroidism (with the prevalence being up to 5%). It is easy to understand that high-dose irradiation induces hypothyroidism with some frequency, because high-dose irradiation destroys the thyroid gland. On the other hand, the basis for development of hyperthyroidism is mechanistically unclear, and it is merely speculative that autoantigens may be released from damaged thyroid glands and recognized by the immune system, leading to the development of anti-thyrotropin receptor antibodies and Graves’ hyperthyroidism in subjects who are immunologically predisposed to this ailment. In contrast, the data on moderate to low-dose irradiation on thyroid autoimmunity and dysfunction are inconsistent. Although it is difficult to draw a definitive conclusion, some data may suggest a transient effect of moderate- to low-dose irradiation on hypothyroidism and autoimmune thyroiditis, implying that the effect, if it exists, is reversible. Finally, no report has shown a statistically significant increase in the prevalence of moderate- to low-dose irradiation-induced Graves’ hyperthyroidism.