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What caused your thyroid cancer?

Posts: 57
Joined: Jun 2009

I don't see or hear much discussion about the causes--suspected or actual--of our thyroid cancers. When mine was first diagnosed I read that exposure to radiation was the main suspect but the studies weren't very conclusive.

That was almost 4 years ago so there may be more recent studies that point in other directions but I still hold to the radiation exposure theory. Perhaps my chronically enlarged lymph nodes in my neck were irradiated when I was a child...my mother has no recollection of it, though.

I eventually arrived at a pet theory about mine, probably a little far fetched but here goes.

Back in the late 80s I built a large steel sailboat in my backyard, doing about 99 percent of the welding by myself. Since I wasn't a pro weldor it was a part time effort, usually spending an hour or two in the afternoons after work and many more hours during weekends. Many of the short welding sessions were done when I could grab a little extra time, and I rarely wore ALL of the recommended safety gear. I used a welding helmet, of course, but many times I was in my shirt sleeves. I soon learned how much exposure to the welding arc my skin could tolerate without getting "sun" burned...10 or 15 minutes, perhaps, so I wasn't too concerned.

It was around this time that I started needing bifocal glasses. When a pro weldor reaches that stage he will either get corrective lenses built into his helmet or he'll get upside down bifocal glasses, with the "reading" lenses at the top. Welding helmets not only protect the eyes and face, they extend down several inches to protect the lower neck and upper chest. In order to see the weld through the dark lens someone wearing ordinary bifocals has to raise his head so he will be looking through the "reading" lenses. Upside down bifocals encourage the proper use of the helmet, head down, with the lower portion of the helmet protecting the neck and chest.

Since I had no intention of doing this professionally I used a standard helmet and ordinary bifocals. This meant my lower neck was exposed to the arc light and heat, a portion of which is UV rays that would leave me with mild sunburn. I had to raise my head to see the weld which brought the helmet up away from my neck and upper chest.

If this is where my cancer got its start I would think there may be a higher instance of thyroid cancers in people who spent some time as arc weldors, either professionally or as part-timers like myself.

Sally08's picture
Posts: 47
Joined: Jan 2009

The only thing I've had to think of as a cause for me is smoking. I've had no previous radiation exposure axcept for 1 x-ray they did on my knee when I was in 7th grade. other than that... I'm currently trying to quit smoking. I've had some PCP's give me problems when I tell them I have thyroid cancer (this was while I was looking for a new Primary Care Provider) because they say "You're too young to have thyroid cancer... are you sure it's cancer and not thyroid complications?" so i just kept searching to find one who before they got my records did not completely question my own knowledge of my own health.
Sorry, I know this wasn't much help... However, I, too wonder.. lol

Posts: 85
Joined: Apr 2009

I was a smoker too. Been a non-smoker for 11years now. I also had a neck injury in 1982 and had several x-rays. There is no history in my family of any one having thyroid cancer before. Papillary cancer - One nodule in both lobes. 2 surgeries, 150 of RAI 2008. This year had a low dose RAI, Thyrogen shots and WBS. My Scan was clean.(Thank you GOD). My Synthroid has change 6 times, I'm now taking 112mci. It's been a roller coster but the ride is coming to a end. My body engery level is back to a norm. I feel pretty good. All you newbies out there it does get better. Just listen to your bodies and let your Endo know if you feel strange or have side effects. They can do blood work and tell if you need more/less hormones. It takes time, Hang in there!

Cancer 2008

Posts: 32
Joined: May 2009

I was a smoker too..!!! just left it 3 years ago, so that should tell us something right. usljh10 (Lisa)..thanks for the advise...I was operated on april this year, already with RAI now the nightmare are my levels...still Hypo and you can imagine how I fell. THANKS...just to read that it's a reminder that there's hope and that this is something transitory. It really cheer me up..!!

Be well....Lily = )

Posts: 2
Joined: Jul 2009

Just ran across your blog. I have Thyroid cancer (RAI is in 3 days) and I have never been smoker. I tried cigarettes when I 16. I mean tried a pack, not any more than that. I have always been very healthy. I have run 5 times a week pretty religiously for the past 20 years. I am 40 now. I've never been overweight, nothing. The only vice I have is diet coke. I love it. I drink 3-4 a day.

Posts: 69
Joined: Mar 2009

According to web Md smokers are actually supposed to have a statistically lower risk of thyroid cancer than non smokers (it didn't help me).

I don't think most people know why they got thyroid cancer. I know they used to have a link on here for people who were accidentally exposed to I-131 that lived near a weapons testing facility and got thyroid cancer from that.

I had 2 hyda scans in a short period of time because they didn't do the first one right, I think that is the most radiation I ever got but I am a navy brat so ya never know.

Posts: 7
Joined: May 2009

I was shocked when I was diagnosed in February of this year after canceling two surgeries because I was told it was less than a 20% chance of cancer after a 1.5cm nodule came back "atypical" on two FNA's. I am an athlete, non-smoker and I have not eaten meat in 20 years. You never know. Dental x-rays as a child, one scan on my knee when I was younger. Our environment-water, air and food can be filled with toxins. Each one of us responds differently to exposure of these toxins. I now eat only organic foods-but who knows if it matters. I guess it matters more that research on treatments are conducted to increase survival rates and quality of life.

Posts: 57
Joined: Jun 2009

I am still a smoker (for about 12 years) but I've no reason to believe it caused nor contributed to mine. NONE of my doctors has told me smoking will make things worse--one, though, a Mayo pulminologist, gave me a tactful lecture about it. His focus was on the increased risk of heart disease, not thyroid cancer.

My Ca is much older than 12 years by all signs and accounts. It was found in a rib after a spontaneous fracture that occurred in September of 2004. It would have been very old in 2004 to have grown in the rib enough to weaken it as it did.

We have a tiny sample of patients here so it doesn't really surprise me to learn no one other than myself has ever done any welding. It has occurred to me, however, that the prevalence of the disease in females just might have been affected by the number of female weldors who were building ships during the early years of World War II. My former mother-in-law did it and suffered thyroid problems (not Ca) in her last years.

Posts: 85
Joined: Apr 2009

I did spot welding in the 1980s for a auto factory. I had forgot about it. I would race with a co-worker to see who could do the most parts. I remember coming home with little burns on my arms and my shirts would have holes. I worked there for 8 years but only spot welded for a couple. We did'nt ware a sheld not even safety glasses,pretty studpid when I look back on it.The weld would only last for a couple of seconds at a time. I don't know how much damage it would have done, there were fumes. Brings back memories,

Posts: 1
Joined: Apr 2009

HI, I hope you dont mind me writing, but you are the first person I found like myself that had a rib fracture with thyroid cancer dx.

I broke my rib when I coughed in june of 2008. CAT scan showed the fracture and stated it was a possible pathological fracture. It also showed the lump on my thyroid.

The thyroid lump is papillary CA. I had my thyroid removed 6 weeks ago and just did the RAI treatment 2 weeks ago. Tomorrow I have my post therapy scan.

I guess my question to you is, what does this all mean? If I get my scan and it shows the rib as being part of the thyroid cancer, does that mean I am stage 4 ? Isnt this the worst prognosis?

What did your rib fracture mean in the big picture of things?

I am a nervous wreck because In my heart I know that this rib is connected to the thyroid cancer.

Any info would be appreciated. Dee

Posts: 57
Joined: Jun 2009

That's pretty interesting, especially about yours being papillary. From my research pap usually goes to lymph nodes while follicular goes to bones and lungs. So far my disease has done exactly that--rib first, now a new one in the spine, lots of tiny ones inside the lungs and one very large one in the right hilar region just outside the lung.

My rib was removed, maybe 6 or 7 inches of it. I was not happy with the consequences of that. My torso is now very asymetrical, bulging out where the rib was taken. The surgeon told me absolutely nothing about the possible complications of that surgery which include a large area with no feeling at all, chronic minor stabbing pains in the vicinity, the bulging, etc. He could not assure me how long the Gore-Tex mesh he secured in place would remain in place. The mesh is secured to ribs 7 and 9 (it was 8 that was removed) and it is intended to keep my innards from bulging out through the gap. You can see the mesh on scans and it doesn't appear to be changing or stretching but the bulging has grown slowly worse. There is one place where you can see some part of my guts has slipped around the edge or end of the mesh but the size of that hasn't changed noticeably over the years. My biggest concern is that the mesh suddenly lets go and some important organ is damaged when it is forced out the gap.

None of my doctors has discussed the stage of my Ca but I have assumed from my research that it was probably 4, maybe 3. Since thyroid Ca is usually survived I've not been too worried about its classification.

When mine was first diagnosed the first endocrinologist said he would do a TT but treat the rib lesion with radiation, RAI at first then focused beam radiation if necessary. My oncologist consulted with another endo who said, emphatically, the rib should be removed. Based on that advice I changed endos and proceeded with the two surgeries, done one right after the other. The rib butcher spent about 3 hours taking it out and, since I survived that, the ENT came in a slit my throat. :) He said later it was the most complex and time consuming TT he had done, about 5 hours. When I went to his office for the first follow-up all of his staff wanted to come in and meet me--the guy who kept the surgeon in the OR for the longest time; they had to cancel many of his appointments that afternoon.

I recently saw this ENT surgeon for problems with my voice, caused by the new tumor in my neck. I told him I regretted having the rib removed because of all the problems. His response was, "If your rib had been left in place and treated with radiation you would probably be dead today."

This is not to say your rib has to go. Listen to your doctors and get second opinions if needed, then make your decision. My rib tumor was very large, about 3 inches long and an inch in diameter. Yours is probably large, too, since the rib was weakened, but that doesn't mean yours should be treated as mine was.

One important thing I have learned from this experience is the importance of thyroglobulin levels during the months and years that follow. My scans were said to be clear for almost 2 years, all while the Tg level was climbing. My doctors finally realized nuclear scans were clear because the mets were not taking up iodine. Several PET scans, however, confirmed multiple mets which explained the increasing Tg.

Posts: 57
Joined: Jun 2009

Well now, that's what I was looking for!

I can't believe protective gear wasn't required! If you think about it you could probably do 100 1 second welds in an hour, maybe 500-800 in a shift...Does that sound about right? That would be a cumulative total similar to what I exposed myself to with a 10 or 15 minute session. I wore the helmet but gave up its protection of my lower neck because of my aging eyes.

Posts: 85
Joined: Apr 2009

Maybe more,we were pretty fast. very competitive. Silly, but you had to have something to past the time. Hey, you could smoke too if you wanted. :)Scary... seems like a life time ago.
Could be a link........... Who knows.

Posts: 69
Joined: Mar 2009

I used to weld too. Never was all that good, I am an electrician by trade but wanted to learn to weld because I didn't know how. I only did it for like six months.

Posts: 57
Joined: Jun 2009

This is getting interesting...two of us did not use adequate protection from the arc which contains a highly concentrated form of UV radiation. In your six month experience did you have an instructor that made sure you were using proper protective gear or did you cut a few corners like we did?

Posts: 69
Joined: Mar 2009

I practiced at a friends house who had a mig welder in his garage so I cut a few corners.

Posts: 57
Joined: Jun 2009

That's three for three then. UV rays are generally thought to adversely affect only the skin but now I wonder if studies have ever been done to see if excess exposure can damage organs and tissue just under the skin. You know, you can see bright light through your hand, say about an inch of tissue and bone and two layers of skin. I bet the thyroid gland is getting exposed to the bright light--and some of the UV radiation--from arc welding with less-than-adequate protection.

Here's another question to consider: On average, who will spend more time sunbathing or in a tanning booth, males or females? When seeking an even tan the head will be tilted back so the neck gets exposed evenly....so the thyroid gland, just under the surface, is getting some of the exposure, too.

Posts: 69
Joined: Mar 2009

I have also broken whole cases of fluorescent bulbs, worked around asbestos, spent a few years working with explosives and lived on military bases. I was in Guantanamo during the missile crisis and got evacuated I was 2 I think. It is really hard to say. Thyroid cancer doesn't seem to have a lot in common with other types of cancer. No genetic link.

Posts: 4
Joined: Jul 2009

I was told by several doctors that there are only two definite causes of thyroid cancer. Those are radiation exposure and inheriting it.
However, I have looked on several websites and have found a link between women who have taken lithium and their children ending up with thyroid cancer. I believe I fall in this area.

Posts: 1
Joined: Aug 2009

I think this is very interesting. My Dad did a lot of body work on cars when I was a little girl. I remember many times that I would see him welding in the garage, he was wearing protective gear, but of course I was not. I'm also wondering if maybe I could have gotten something transmitted from him to me by way of the birth line, or him being in close proximity to my mom while she was pregnant with me. Maybe I was exposed to this while my thyroid was developing as a fetus... or even as a toddler. Hmmm, interesting.

Posts: 3
Joined: Aug 2009

so do you believe that tanning is what caused thyroid cancer? I use to tan but I stoped when I was told I had cancer, I want to start again though. Do you think it will affect me ?

Posts: 16
Joined: Aug 2009

If anything check maybe try the self tanners --I am fairly light and have used one called Banana Boat --Summer Cooler Self Adjusting Color. But, remember if you are scheduled for iodine scan, then stay clear of all dyes. At least, that's what I was told. You can get natural looking color without the hazard.

Posts: 18
Joined: Jul 2009

I have a genetic disorder. Its a package deal that includes Medularry Thyroid Carcinoma, Marfanoid Body type, and a host of other genetic defects. don't you love the package deals? yYa get more for your ailment!

Posts: 4
Joined: Aug 2009

Most likely it was an old x-ray machine.

I was an Army brat and remember x-ray machines in hospitals that were relics from the 40's & 50's. That was in the late 60's and early 70's btw...

Posts: 57
Joined: Jun 2009

One of my doctors told me there has been a remarkable increase in thyroid cancer in younger females in recent years. Well, what demographic tans the most?

Even if my wild theory (it is just a theory) has no merit there are too many other risks with tanning.

Posts: 19
Joined: Dec 2004

I always wonder if working 6-8 hrs a day in woundcare in a hospital where in at least 60% of the whirpools had betadyne added to them. The room had no ventilation system in it either. I also had a thyroid scan done when I was 15 or 16 years old because I used to have swollen glands & throat infections all the time.

Posts: 1
Joined: Sep 2009

Im trying to add this to comments. Hope Im sending it to the right area but I too had done research and questioning where in the world I would have been exposed to radiation to get this cancer which has been agressive for this type. I have worked around xrays and and had many xrays for dental work. I have lived in the east in ohio which has shale rock and hi exposure to Radon through the center of the state. Hopefull this info may help those who are wondering where in the world would I have gotten exposure. Take the questionare and it may add up and answer your questions.
Radiationin Everyday Life
Types of Radiation | Radiation Dose | Radiation Protection | At What Level is Radiation Harmful? | Risks and Benefits
Radioactivity is a part of our earth - it has existed all along. Naturally occurring radioactive materials are present in its crust, the floors and walls of our homes, schools, or offices and in the food we eat and drink. There are radioactive gases in the air we breathe. Our own bodies - muscles, bones, and tissue - contain naturally occurring radioactive elements.
Man has always been exposed to natural radiation arising from the earth as well as from outside the earth. The radiation we receive from outer space is called cosmic radiation or cosmic rays.
We also receive exposure from man-made radiation, such as X-rays, radiation used to diagnose diseases and for cancer therapy. Fallout from nuclear explosives testing, and small quantities of radioactive materials released to the environment from coal and nuclear power plants, are also sources of radiation exposure to man.
Radioactivity is the term used to describe disintegration of atoms. The atom can be characterized by the number of protons in the nucleus. Some natural elements are unstable. Therefore, their nuclei disintegrate or decay, thus releasing energy in the form of radiation. This physical phenomenon is called radioactivity and the radioactive atoms are called nuclei. The radioactive decay is expressed in units called becquerels. One becquerel equals one disintegration per second.
The radionuclides decay at a characteristic rate that remains constant regardless of external influences, such as temperature or pressure. The time that it takes for half the radionuclides to disintegrate or decay is called half-life. This differs for each radioelement, ranging from fractions of a second to billions of years. For example, the half-life of Iodine 131 is eight days, but for Uranium 238, which is present in varying amounts all over the world, it is 4.5 billion years. Potassium 40, the main source of radioactivity in our bodies, has a half-life of 1.42 billion years.
Types of Radiation
The term "radiation" is very broad, and includes such things as light and radio waves. In our context it refers to "ionizing" radiation, which means that because such radiation passes through matter, it can cause it to become electrically charged or ionized. In living tissues, the electrical ions produced by radiation can affect normal biological processes.
There are various types of radiation, each having different characteristics. The common ionizing radiations generally talked about are:
Alpha radiation consists of heavy, positively charged particles emitted by atoms of elements such as uranium and radium. Alpha radiation can be stopped completely by a sheet of paper or by the thin surface layer of our skin (epidermis). However, if alpha-emitting materials are taken into the body by breathing, eating, or drinking, they can expose internal tissues directly and may, therefore, cause biological damage.
Beta radiation consists of electrons. They are more penetrating than alpha particles and can pass through 1-2 centimetres of water. In general, a sheet of aluminum a few millimetres thick will stop beta radiation.
Gamma rays are electromagnetic radiation similar to X-rays, light, and radio waves. Gamma rays, depending on their energy, can pass right through the human body, but can be stopped by thick walls of concrete or lead.
Neutrons are uncharged particles and do not produce ionization directly. But, their interaction with the atoms of matter can give rise to alpha, beta, gamma, or X-rays which then produce ionization. Neutrons are penetrating and can be stopped only by thick masses of concrete, water or paraffin.
Although we cannot see or feel the presence of radiation, it can be detected and measured in the most minute quantities with quite simple radiation measuring instruments.
Radiation Dose
Sunlight feels warm because our body absorbs the infra-red rays it contains. But, infra-red rays do not produce ionization in body tissue. In contrast, ionizing radiation can impair the normal functioning of the cells or even kill them. The amount of energy necessary to cause significant biological effects through ionization is so small that our bodies cannot feel this energy as in the case of infra-red rays which produce heat.
The biological effects of ionizing radiation vary with the type and energy. A measure of the risk of biological harm is the dose of radiation that the tissues receive. The unit of absorbed radiation dose is the sievert (Sv). Since one sievert is a large quantity, radiation doses normally encountered are expressed in millisievert (mSv) or microsievert (µSv) which are one-thousandth or one millionth of a sievert. For example, one chest X-ray will give about 0.2 mSv of radiation dose.
On average, our radiation exposure due to all natural sources amounts to about 2.4 mSv a year - though this figure can vary, depending on the geographical location by several hundred percent. In homes and buildings, there are radioactive elements in the air. These radioactive elements are radon (Radon 222), thoron (Radon 220) and by products formed by the decay of radium (Radium 226) and thorium present in many sorts of rocks, other building materials and in the soil. By far the largest source of natural radiation exposure comes from varying amounts of uranium and thorium in the soil around the world.
The radiation exposure due to cosmic rays is very dependent on altitude, and slightly on latitude: people who travel by air, thereby, increase their exposure to radiation.
We are exposed to ionizing radiation from natural sources in two ways:
We are surrounded by naturally-occurring radioactive elements in the soil and stones, and are bathed with cosmic rays entering the earth's atmosphere from outer space.

We receive internal exposure from radioactive elements which we take into our bodies through food and water, and through the air we breathe. In addition, we have radioactive elements (Potassium 40, Carbon 14, Radium 226) in our blood or bones.
Additionally, we are exposed to varying amounts of radiation from sources such as dental and other medical X-rays, industrial uses of nuclear techniques and other consumer products such as luminized wrist watches, ionization smoke detectors, etc. We are also exposed to radiation from radioactive elements contained in fallout from nuclear explosives testing, and routine normal discharges from nuclear and coal power stations.
Radiation Protection
It has long been recognized that large doses of ionizing radiation can damage human tissues. Over the years, as more was learned, scientists became increasingly concerned about the potentially damaging effects of exposure to large doses of radiation. The need to regulate exposure to radiation prompted the formation of a number of expert bodies to consider what is needed to be done. In 1928, an independent non-governmental body of experts in the field, the International X-ray and Radium Protection Committee was established. It later was renamed the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP). Its purpose is to establish basic principles for, and issue recommendations on, radiation protection.
These principles and recommendations form the basis for national regulations governing the exposure of radiation workers and members of the public. They also have been incorporated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into its Basic Safety Standards for Radiation Protection published jointly with the World Health Organization (WHO), International Labour Organization (ILO), and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA). These standards are used worldwide to ensure safety and radiation protection of radiation workers and the general public.
An intergovernmental body was formed in 1955 by the General Assembly of the United Nations as the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). UNSCEAR is directed to assemble, study and disseminate information on observed levels of ionizing radiation and radioactivity (natural and man-made) in the environment, and on the effects of such radiation on man and the environment.
Basic approaches to radiation protection are consistent all over the world. The ICRP recommends that any exposure above the natural background radiation should be kept as low as reasonably achievable, but below the individual dose limits. The individual dose limit for radiation workers averaged over 5 years is 100 mSv, and for members of the general public, is 1 mSv per year. These dose limits have been established based on a prudent approach by assuming that there is no threshold dose below which there would be no effect. It means that any additional dose will cause a proportional increase in the chance of a health effect. This relationship has not yet been established in the low dose range where the dose limits have been set.
There are many high natural background radiation areas around the world where the annual radiation dose received by members of the general public is several times higher than the ICRP dose limit for radiation workers. The numbers of people exposed are too small to expect to detect any increases in health effects epidemiologically. Still the fact that there is no evidence so far of any increase does not mean the risk is being totally disregarded.
The ICRP and the IAEA recommend the individual dose must be kept as low as reasonably achievable, and consideration must be given to the presence of other sources which may cause simultaneous radiation exposure to the same group of the public. Also, allowance for future sources or practices must be kept in mind so that the total dose received by an individual member of the public does not exceed the dose limit.
In general, the average annual dose received by radiation workers is found to be considerably lower than the individual dose limits. Good radiation protection practice can thus result in low radiation exposure to workers.
At What Level is Radiation Harmful?
The effects of radiation at high doses and dose rates are reasonably well documented. A very large dose delivered to the whole body over a short time will result in the death of the exposed person within days. Much has been learned by studying the health records of the survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We know from these that some of the health effects of exposure to radiation do not appear unless a certain quite large dose is absorbed. However, many other effects, especially cancers are readily detectable and occur more often in those with moderate doses. At lower doses and dose rates, there is a degree of recovery in cells and in tissues.
However, at low doses of radiation, there is still considerable uncertainty about the overall effects. It is presumed that exposure to radiation, even at the levels of natural background, may involve some additional risk of cancer. However, this has yet to be established. To determine precisely the risk at low doses by epidemiology would mean observing millions of people at higher and lower dose levels. Such an analysis would be complicated by the absence of a control group which had not been exposed to any radiation. In addition, there are thousands of substances in our everyday life besides radiation that can also cause cancer, including tobacco smoke, ultraviolet light, asbestos, some chemical dyes, fungal toxins in food, viruses, and even heat. Only in exceptional cases is it possible to identify conclusively the cause of a particular cancer.
There is also experimental evidence from animal studies that exposure to radiation can cause genetic effects. However, the studies of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki give no indication of this for humans. Again, if there were any hereditary effects of exposure to low-level radiation, they could be detected only by careful analysis of a large volume of statistical data. Moreover, they would have to be distinguished from those of a number of other agents which might also cause genetic disorders, but whose effect may not be recognised until the damage has been done (thalidomide, once prescribed for pregnant women as a tranquilizer, is one example). It is likely that the resolution of the scientific debate will not come via epidemiology but from an understanding of the mechanisms through molecular biology.
With all the knowledge so far collected on effects of radiation, there is still no definite conclusion as to whether exposure due to natural background carries a health risk, even though it has been demonstrated for exposure at a level a few times higher.
Risks and Benefits
We all face risks in everyday life. It is impossible to eliminate them all, but it is possible to reduce them. The use of coal, oil, and nuclear energy for electricity production, for example, is associated with some sort of risk to health, however small. In general, society accepts the associated risk in order to derive the relevant benefits. Any individual exposed to carcinogenic pollutants will carry some risk of getting cancer. Strenuous attempts are made in the nuclear industry to reduce such risks to as low as reasonably achievable.
Radiation protection sets examples for other safety disciplines in two unique respects:
First, there is the assumption that any increased level of radiation above natural background will carry some risk of harm to health.

Second, it aims to protect future generations from activities conducted today.
The use of radiation and nuclear techniques in medicine, industry, agriculture, energy and other scientific and technological fields has brought tremendous benefits to society. The benefits in medicine for diagnosis and treatment in terms of human lives saved are enormous. Radiation is a key tool in the treatment of certain kinds of cancer. Three out of every four patients hospitalized in the industrial countries benefit from some form of nuclear medicine. The beneficial impacts in other fields are similar.
No human activity or practice is totally devoid of associated risks. Radiation should be viewed from the perspective that the benefit from it to mankind is less harmful than from many other agents.
Copyright©, International Atomic Energy Agency, P.O. Box 100, Wagramer Strasse 5, A-1400 Vienna, Austria Telephone (+431) 2600-0; Facsimile (+431) 2600-7; E-mail: Official.Mail@iaea.org

Understanding Radiation
NSC Home > Understanding Radiation > Article

Determining Your Exposure
Most of the exposure levels described in these Web pages are averages and may not reflect your own individual exposure or that of members of your family. Depending on where you live, your lifestyle, and your occupation, you could be exposed to more or less radiation than the average person.
For example, if you live in "mile-high" Denver, Colorado, your average annual dose from cosmic radiation is about 50 millirem per year. If you live in Leadville, Colorado, at an altitude of two miles, your cosmic radiation dose is closer to 125 millirem per year. However, if you live on a coastal plain, like Florida, you receive only about 26 millirem per year from cosmic radiation.
Some parts of the country have higher concentrations of radon and radioactive minerals in the soil than others. In Ohio, for example, a line of Ohio Black Shale runs through the center of the state from south to north, along part of the Lake Erie shore, and in the northwestern parts of the state. Many people who live over this shale experience higher doses from radon than those who live elsewhere in Ohio. Also, very high levels (hundreds or even thousands of pCi/L ) of radon have been found in homes built in the area known as the Reading Prong in the Northeastern United States.
Other factors that help determine your exposure include:
The consumer products you use regularly
The number of medical and dental procedures using radiation that you undergo annually
The kind of work you do. (Airline flight crews receive many times the average radiation exposure from cosmic rays while in the air, an extra 100 millirem per year on average.)
Whether you smoke
The kind of house you live in
You can use Table 4 to do a rough calculation of your annual exposure to radiation.
Table 4. What Is Your Estimated Annual Radiation Dose?
Source Your Average Annual
Dose (mrem)
Cosmic radiation at sea level (from outer space) 26
What is the elevation (in feet) of your town?
up to 1000, add 2 mrem 5,000 - 6,000, add 29 mrem
1,000 - 2,000, add 5 mrem 6,000 - 7,000, add 40 mrem
2,000 - 3,000, add 9 mrem 7,000 - 8,000, add 53 mrem
3,000 - 4,000, add 15 mrem above 8,000, add 70 mrem
4,000 - 5,000 add 21 mrem
Terrestrial (from the ground):
What region of the US do you live in?
Gulf Coast, add 16 mrem
Atlantic Coast, add 16 mrem
Colorado Plateau, add 63 mrem
Elsewhere in United States, add 30 mrem
Internal radiation (in your body):
From food and water, (e.g., potassium and radon in water) 40
From air, (radon) 200
Do you wear a plutonium powered pacemaker? If yes, add 100 mrem
Do you have porcelain crowns or false teeth? If yes, add .07 mrem
Travel Related Sources:
Add .5 mrem for each hour in the air
Are xray luggage inspection machines used at your airport? Yes, add .002 mrem
Do you use a gas camping lantern? If yes, add .2 mrem
Medical Sources
Extremity (arm, hand, foot, or leg) add 1 mrem
Chest xrays, add 6 mrem
Skull/neck, add 20 mrem
Upper GI, add 245 mrem
Dental xrays, add 1 mrem
Pelvis hip, add 65 mrem
Barium enema, add 405 mrem
CAT Scan (head and body), add 110 mrem
Nuclear Medicine (e.g., thyroid scan), add 14 mrem

Miscellaneous Sources:
Weapons test fallout 1
Do you live in a stone, adobe brick, or concrete building? If yes, add 7 mrem
Do you wear a luminous wristwatch (LCD)? If yes, add.06 mrem
Do you watch TV? If yes, add 1 mrem
Do you use a computer terminal? If yes, add .1 mrem
Do you have a smoke detector in your home? If yes, add .008 mrem
Do you live within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant? If yes, add .01 mrem
Do you live within 50 miles of a coal fired power plant? If yes, add .03 mrem
[Note: The amount of radiation exposure is usually expressed in a unit called millimrem (mrem). In the United States, the average person is exposed to an effective dose equivalent of approximately 360 mrem (whole-body exposure) per year from all sources (NCRP Report No. 93).]
Source: U.S. EPA and American Nuclear Society based on data from the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements Reports # 92 - 95 and #100.

Posts: 57
Joined: Jun 2009

Wow! There's a whole bunch of info there to ponder.

As for ultraviolet radiation being a non-ionizing form, I will have to take your word for it. I know UV rays are not the same as X-rays...but...

My theory about UV causing SOME thyroid cancers still stands--as a theory, only. MY theory. :)

I base it on a few observations, only: (1) Three people in this very tiny sampling (on this thread) had thyroid cancer that came on some time after doing a significant amount of arc welding with poor protective gear that exposed not only their skin but also the lower neck. (2) Thyroid cancer is more common in women and women have been more concerned about their tans than men, in general, over the last 5 or 6 decades. Men that work outdoors will usually develop a natural tan that doesn't include the lower neck because it tends to be shaded by the head; women seeking an all-over tan purposely tilt their heads back to eliminate that white "shadow." (3) There has been a dramatic increase in thyroid cancers in younger females, in the past couple decades; during that same period tanning salons and home tanning beds have grown at a pretty fast pace, with the majority of users being female, especially younger females.

UV rays used to be considered healthy--it's called a healthy tan, right? Pale skin was considered sickly. But every year that goes by we learn of more and more harm that can result from high exposure to UV rays. I believe someone, somewhere, someday, will discover what happens within a thyroid gland, lying just below the surface of the neck, when that area is exposed to high levels of UV rays.

philliesphan101's picture
Posts: 3
Joined: Oct 2009

Just another thought. Now that I look back, (I am 45), I remember getting a lot of dental xrays through my life. I was a smokeless tobacco user from around 1981 to 1985, then I was a smoker from 1985 till 1992. I never welded (I can barely draw a straight line!)

My grandmother who passed away in 2001 at 89, was treated for "goiter" at one point in her life and ad her thyroid removed I think. She still had a sister alive that was able to share some of that with me.

I spent a little time in the sun, but not nearly anything excessive. My dad has an auto parts store and I worked there every day all summer growing up.

Posts: 3
Joined: Dec 2009

New research about high incidence of thyroid cancer near volcanoes - researchers seem to think that in addition to radiation any very toxic fumes (like welding) could contribute. Also some dental x-ray machines were set too high before newer regulations.

Posts: 1
Joined: Dec 2009

NBC's nightly news with Brian williams on Dec 21st. Catch it if you can.

Suggested that it could be caused from dental x-rays.

I am not a smoker, nor have I ever welded...................I do have however a mouth full of crowns and bridges.............

Posts: 104
Joined: Dec 2009

I also have never smoked, welded or had extensive exrays or exposure to radiation. Personally, I don't think there's a doctor or researcher out there who can explain how anyone gets any type of cancer. Yes, there are risk factors that increase your chance, but so many healthy people get cancer I just think it's basically by chance.

This pertains not only to cancer, but other diseases. I don't know, it just seems to me there is so little research on thyroid cancer, hurthle cell in particular. because it is so rare. It's very frustrating. Before I found this site, everything I did find were case studies and the subject died. Not very positive stuff out there.

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