Association Between 131I Exposure After the Chernobyl Accident and Thyroid Volume in Children in Belarus
Abstract Thyroid enlargement can cause problems with swallowing or breathing and a decrease in accuracy of screening for thyroid cancer. Exposure to radioactive iodines after the 1986 Chernobyl accident is known to increase risk of thyroid cancer in those exposed at a young age, but little is known about its effects on thyroid volume, which could have important clinical implications. The objective of this study is to characterize the dose-response association between iodine-131 (131I) exposure and thyroid volume using data from a Belarusian-American cohort study of residents of Belarus exposed during childhood. Persons exposed to Chernobyl fallout in Belarus at the age of 18 years or younger had individual 131I doses to the thyroid gland estimated from direct thyroid activity measurements, radioecological and biokinetic models, and interview data on whereabouts and dietary habits collected during baseline screening in 1996-2001 (N=11,970; median age 21 years). Thyroid volume was estimated from thyroid ultrasound measurements during screening. Individuals with diagnoses of benign or malignant tumors of thyroid gland, any thyroid surgery or aplasia, and missing thyroid volume measurements were excluded (n=1,104). Dose and thyroid volume were log-transformed due to right-skewed distributions. We used a multivariable linear regression to estimate the dose-response association between 131I dose to the thyroid and thyroid volume accounting for confounding effects of sex, age at screening, and place of residence at the time of screening, a proxy for endemic iodine deficiency. To examine nonlinear effects, we added a quadratic term for the log-transformed dose. Among 10,866 participants, dose to thyroid ranged from 0.0005 to 39 gray (Gy) (median=0.3 Gy). In a linear regression model adjusted for confounders, log thyroid volume was best described by a linear-quadratic function of log dose (p<0.001 for log dose and log dose-squared coefficients). The largest effect was observed for doses 0.3-0.6 Gy (14%), then gradually decreased. Subjects with thyroid dose of 1 Gy had an average thyroid volume 13.6% (95% CI 8- 19.2%) higher compared to those with dose 1 mGy. Thyroid volume increased with age and was significantly higher for males compared to females and for those from Minsk city and area compared to other regions (both p<0.001). The adjusted R2-value was 30%, suggesting unaccounted factors that might better explain this association. This is the first study to assess the dose-response association between exposure to 131I and thyroid volume. Although statistically significant, the observed increase in thyroid volume with dose was small. Availability of measurements of iodine deficiency and dietary habits around the time of an accident in the future studies of nuclear accidents will be essential for understanding the mechanism of association between radiation dose and thyroid volume in young people.