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Radiation as a Child for Enlarged Thymus

Posts: 16
Joined: May 2010

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. You may also contact me at 2manyrads@gmail.com

Posts: 1
Joined: Feb 2013

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,


Posts: 1
Joined: Jun 2015

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!!


Posts: 3
Joined: Sep 2014

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!

Posts: 1
Joined: Oct 2016

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!

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