Radiation exposure and thyroid cancer: a review

ABSTRACT The association between radiation exposure and the occurrence of thyroid cancer has been well documented, and the two main risk factors for the development of a thyroid cancer are the radiation dose delivered to the thyroid gland and the age at exposure. The risk increases after exposure to a mean dose of more than 0.05-0.1 Gy (50-100mGy). The risk is more important during childhood and decreases with increased age at exposure, being low in adults. After exposure, the minimum latency period before the appearance of thyroid cancers is 5 to 10 years. Papillary carcinoma (PTC) is the most frequent form of thyroid carcinoma diagnosed after radiation exposure, with a higher prevalence of the solid subtype in young children with a short latency period and of the classical subtype in cases with a longer latency period after exposure. Molecular alterations, including intra-chromosomal rearrangements, are frequently found. Among them, RET/PTC rearrangements are the most frequent. Current research is directed on the mechanism of genetic alterations induced by radiation and on a molecular signature that can identify the origin of thyroid carcinoma after a known or suspected exposure to radiation.