Prevalence of thyroid nodules in an occupationally radiation exposed group: a cross sectional study in an area with mild iodine deficiency

Trerotoli, Paolo; Ciampolillo, Anna; Marinelli, Giuseppe; Giorgino, Riccardo; Serio, Gabriella
January 2005
BMC Public Health;2005, Vol. 5, p73
Academic Journal
Background: Thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer occur more frequently in people exposed to radiation for therapeutic purposes, and to nuclear fallout. Furthermore, it is known that a moderate degree of iodine deficiency may be responsible for an increased prevalence of thyroid nodules, while it is suspected that radiation exposure could induce changes in thyroid autoimmunity. The iodine intake of people resident in Bari, S. Italy, is mildly deficient, which could be presumed to cause a higher prevalence of thyroid pathology. This study was conducted to evaluate the prevalence of thyroid nodules in a population occupationally exposed to radiation, in an area of mild iodine deficiency. Methods: A cross-sectional study was designed to evaluate the prevalence of thyroid nodules in radiation exposed workers, compared with a stratified sample of non exposed workers. After giving written consent to participate in the study, all the recruited subjects (304 exposed and 419 non exposed volunteers) were interviewed to fill in an anamnestic questionnaire, and underwent a physical examination, ultrasound thyroid scan, serum determinations of fT3, fT4 and TSH, fine needle aspiration biopsy. The sample was subdivided into one group exposed to a determined quantity of radiation (detected by counter), one group exposed to an undetectable quantity of radiation, and the non exposed control group.(determined dose) and 9.09% (undetectable dose) in males, and 20.30% in non exposed females versus 3.23% (detected dose) and 9.52% (undetectable dose) in exposed females. There was a higher proportion of healthy staff in the exposed group than in the non exposed: (80.45% vs 68.68% in males; 80.65% vs 57.87% in females). Conclusion: In our study, occupational exposure to radiation combined with mild iodine deficiency did not increase the risk of developing thyroid nodules. The statistically significant higher prevalence of thyroid nodules in the non exposed group could be explained by the high percentage (22%) of people with a familial history of, and hence a greater predisposition to, thyroid disease. The endemic condition of mild iodine deficiency, demonstrated in other studies, played a major role in determining the thyroid pathology in our study groups Results: The prevalence of thyroid nodules <1 cm in diameter, defined as incidentalomas, in the exposed group with detected doses, was 11.28% in males and 9.68% in females, while in the exposed group with undetectable dose the prevalence was 10.39% in males and 16.67% in females. In the non exposed group the prevalence of incidentalomas was 9.34% in males and 13.20% in females. These prevalences were not statistically different when analysed by a multiple test comparison with the bootstrap method and stratification for sex. Instead, the prevalence of thyroid nodules > 1 cm in diameter resulted statistically different in exposed and non exposed health staff: 18.68% in non exposed males vs exposed: 3.76%.


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