Radiation as a Child for Enlarged Thymus

2manyrads Member Posts: 16 Member
edited May 9 in Leukemia #1
As an infant I was radiated in 1946 for an enlarged thymus gland in the mistaken belief that this would prevent SIDS. The amount of radiation I absorbed was equal to ten common CT studies today. This treatment was commonly used in major hospitals and even pediatricians’ offices across the country. Thousands of infants and children were given radiation treatments that would later result in many developing both cancer and radiation-induced heart disease.

My mother—as no doubt many other mothers—held me on her lap, to make it easier for the radiologist to administer the x-rays. The cancer she developed from her own exposure to the radiation that passed through my 5 month old body to hers, was one of the causes of her death many years later.

After surviving leukemia at age four, I spent the next thirty years in and out of hospitals for illnesses that seemed to have no identifiable cause. When my mother was diagnosed with a cancer the oncologist told her could only have come from exposure to large doses of radiation, she explained she had never been in that situation even as an emergency room nurse at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan.

After further questioning from the doctor she remembered our experience with x-ray treatments. The doctor said he’d studied in med school that erroneous diagnosis and x-ray treatment. He said, I assume your son died a long time ago since he received the bulk of the ionizing radiation. No, she told him. My son has had a lifetime of serious illnesses, including being placed at one time under hospice care for over four years.

The doctor told her to call me and for me to get to an endocrinologist immediately because I most certainly had thyroid cancer. I did as told and the endocrinologist said he could see from across the room that I had an abnormal thyroid. It turned out to be Stage 3 metastasized thyroid cancer. After a thyroidectomy and radiation treatments (ironically to treat what had caused the disease in the first place) I slowly recovered.

I take synthroid that is carefully monitored for correct dosage and the devastating symptoms caused by my thyroid cancer have been controlled.

I am currently working on a book about the history of radiation for benign conditions, especially on children, and would be very interested to hear other’s stories.


  • melody2348
    melody2348 Member Posts: 1
    edited August 2022 #2
    too many rads

    I had a similar situation as a child.  When I was four, I had a swolen gland in my neck.  I was in the hospital two weeks, the bill is in my baby book.  I had shots the first week, and the second week they took me to a room with a big machine and strapped me to a table and put a large black thing against my neck which made a buzzing sound for a long time.  They did that a lot.  My parents didn't remember how often it was done.  I had to have my thyroid removed a few years ago because it was full of tumors, and producing too much thyroid hormone.  I am going through Breast cancer on my left breast for the second time, and had an invasive cancer in the right breast 10 years ago.  I had radiation on the left breast but decided against it on the right.  I would be interested in hearing any information anyone has on this subject,

  • css055
    css055 Member Posts: 1
    Radiation for Enlarged Thymus

    Thank you for posting - I too received radiation for an enlarged thymus in 1950 when I was an infant.  I've had thyroid issues for about 10 years and just this week received test results indicating I have cancer in my left breast.  The biopsy results stated stage 3 cancer.  On Monday I have an MRI scheduled and we'll see where we go from there!

    Have you finished your book?

    I find it puzzling / ironic that after the sugery I'll receive radiation!!


  • kathygori
    kathygori Member Posts: 4 Member
    css055 said:

    Radiation for Enlarged Thymus

    Thank you for posting - I too received radiation for an enlarged thymus in 1950 when I was an infant.  I've had thyroid issues for about 10 years and just this week received test results indicating I have cancer in my left breast.  The biopsy results stated stage 3 cancer.  On Monday I have an MRI scheduled and we'll see where we go from there!

    Have you finished your book?

    I find it puzzling / ironic that after the sugery I'll receive radiation!!


    Me too

    i was radiated for my thymus as an infant and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990 while in my 30s , now 25 years later II've been diagnosed again with breast cancer in my other breast. I had no thyroid issues but certainly a lot of breast cancer!

  • Barb1319
    Barb1319 Member Posts: 1
    edited October 2016 #5
    Me too also

    I was irradiated in 1946 at 6 months for "enlarged thymus gland", which of course was a made-up condition by idiot doctors who were irradiating people willy nilly for whatever. Diagnosed in 2013 for ER+HER2+ breast cancer. Had mastectomy, chemo (awful), spent months in a fog, scared myself and family and still taking a daily, side-effect laden pill for 5 years.

    My parents were very compliant with whatever the doctor said, as many people were in that time. So they had me irradiated. Years passed, the hospital conveniently "lost" all the records, my parents didn't even remember how many treatments i had. I was pregnant in 1975 when I read in the Chicago Tribune that these babies were part of an epidemic of cancers in their 20s and 30s, and were being recalled to the hospitals where they were treated for thyroid scans. That's when my parents told me, but no on knew what awaited me in the future. I guess our numbers are in the thousands. No generally agreed upon doses at that time, machines were pretty much unregulated, so thousands of us were/are walking time bombs. My oncologist said the risk is lifelong, though diminishes a bit with age. Good luck to all of us!

  • Peggylou46
    Peggylou46 Member Posts: 1 Member
    edited November 2021 #6
    Enlarged thymus at birth

    I was born in 1955 in Michigan. Before my mother even held me, I was whisked away for radiation treatments to my neck for an enlarged thymus. Fast forward 55 years, I noticed a bump on my neck. I had an ultrasound performed which showed a larger nodule on my thyroid on my left side and a very small one on my right side. My doctor only biopsied the larger one and it was not suspicious for cancer. He had me come back in 6 months to biopsy the same one again. No change. I asked if he was going to biopsy the smaller one, but he said it was VERY tiny and was not going to. I asked him to do it and it was cancerous. We caught it in time. I had my thyroid removed and there was no further treatment needed. Ten years later (today), I have been told by my endo at our annual exam to see a surgeon as it appears from a CT scan that she ordered because my PTH hormone levels were high, my parathyroid glands have benign tumors. I had never heard of PTH (parathyroid hormone) blood test, but if that hormone is too high, it can cause calcium to be taken from your bones. Your parathyroid regulates calcium in the body. So, that is where I am today. I have been very healthy my 67 years on this earth, but I did struggle with Rheumatoid arthritis for 25 years, until I was healed of it four years ago. Truly a miracle to me. In summary, if you were one of those unfortunate infants that was radiated, I would recommend to be proactive in getting tested annually (thyroid, breasts, etc.). You could detect something early if you are proactive.

  • allanhansen
    allanhansen Member Posts: 1 *

    Was born in L. A. In 1952 and diagnosed with an enlarged thymus. According to my "baby book" I was given several X-Ray treatments to reduce its size. It is 9/21/22 and I just listened to an amazing story on Radiolab (an NPR show) about current research on the thymus, including 1950's treatment for an "enlarged thymus" in the 50's. Fun fact: they didn't figure out what the function of the thymus was until the 1960's. It's even more fun to hear that the thymus is very large at birth but by the end of puberty it is much, much smaller. Was my thymus "enlarged" or just a normal big honking baby thymus?

    I highly recommend y'all check out this discussion of past, present, and future thymus research which includes how transplanting a small portion of a heart donor's thymus along with his/her heart can prevent organ rejection.

    Best of luck to everyone dealing with cancer issues!

  • Joheff
    Joheff Member Posts: 1 *

    Me too..thymus radiated as an infant. Anybody else dealing with benign thyroid nodules, hyperparathyroidism ( adenoma removed in my 60's), and questionable health issues in my 70's, relatable? May have onset of reoccurring hyper or hypoparathyroidism now, in my early 70's.

    Hair analysis in my mid 60's indicated extremely high level of uranium (from massive radiation at some point, or ongoing exposures).

  • kodsgy
    kodsgy Member Posts: 4 Member

    Born in 1955, I too was irradiated as an infant for enlarged thymus and sinus issues. Soon thereafter, the medical establishment stopped this barbaric practice after realizing that ALL healthy babies have thymuses larger than the cadavers of orphaned infants that were originally used to study infant anatomy (orphaned infants back then were typically unhealthy/malnourished). I've never had cancer, but some weird disorders that I wonder about; that's why I'm here. I’ve looked for support groups for irradiated infants, but this is the only one I've found. I’ve always had low blood pressure, cold body temp and extremities, low energy, erectile dysfunctions, metabolic/digestion issues, etc. I wonder how many other victims have similar issues.

  • mjarrar
    mjarrar Member Posts: 1 Member

    I have been counting myself as lucky because I did not get cancer from being irradiated for an enlarged thymus in 1946. But, I'm 77 now, and from what I gather, it's still possible. I was left with a weak, jagged-sounding voice though. When my son was little I struggled to read him bedtime stories because my voice would wear out quickly. The other kids at school did make fun of it and even as an adult, people comment on it. It's a domino effect. Even at my age, I still sound like a child. Surreal that one thing like that can cause so many problems down the road. I've had several rare autoimmune conditions, as well as goiter, unrelenting depression, and extreme fatigue both in childhood and adult years. I had severe endometriosis and I bet after a few years they'll discover it had something to do with that too. After Levothyroxine came along, managing underactive thyroid became better. I really didn't get a good start in life and sympathize a lot with those who didn't either. I just remember that in my childhood I was always exhausted too. People didn't understand that it wasn't that I didn't want to do things, but that I just couldn't. People still see me as a "whiner." It's just weird now to think I'm not out of the woods yet and could still get cancer. I have the best hopes for all of us.

  • MjWalker
    MjWalker Member Posts: 1 Member

    I, like the people above, had these treatment at just a few months of age in 1947. I never knew, until my Mom told me sometime in 1970's due to the TV show, Dr. Marcus Welby( if I remember correctly), actor, Robert Young. Then she explained, that my doctor thought it was best I have this treatment for my Thymus that didn't seem to shrinking properly due to not beable to breath at night. Mom said she used to have to hold me upright to breath so we could sleep. Now I think it was probably Bronchial Asthma that the last few years I have been dealing with brought on by allergies that is being treated by my Allergist. For my whole life I have had no immune system that worked very good. I have had breast cancer in 1990 and cervical cancer in 1981. Diagnosed like another lady with endometriosis at 16 years old and surgery to remove fibroids. And the last fibroid removed in 2003 with what was left of my ovaries. When diagnosed with the breast cancer at M D Anderson, my doctor at the that time told me she couldn't say that the treatments when as an infant was the cause of the breast cancer, but possible, maybe. I have problems with my Thyroid and have been taking Synthroid in 1993 diagnosed with under active thyroid. Now, battling Bronchial Asthma and I wonder if possible this too was caused by the radadition treatments in 1947. Who knows.