Statement addresses radiation, radioactive iodine, risk of thyroid cancer

In the wake of the radiation leaks at Fukushima I Nuclear Plant in Japan, U.S. health officials recently released a statement regarding the disaster's risk to thyroid health.

A release co-authored by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, the American Thyroid Association, the Endocrine Society and the Society of Nuclear Medicine stated that Americans need not take or purchase potassium iodide pills as a precautionary measure against thyroid cancer.

While potassium iodide does protect the thyroid from the uptake of radioactive iodine, the measure is currently unnecessary in every part of the U.S., including the West Coast, Hawaii and Alaska, the organizations said.

The thyroid gland naturally absorbs almost all the iodine the the human body, according to the American Cancer Association. When an individual is diagnosed with thyroid cancer, a common treatment involves the ingestion of iodine-131, a radioactive isotope which destroys thyroid tissue as it is absorbed.

The new statement notes that when the thyroid gland is cancer-free, exposure to radioactive iodine, such as that released during the explosions at the Fukushima I Nuclear Plant, can lead to thyroid cancer later on in life.

Japanese health authorities recently released alerts regarding trace levels of iodine-131 found in drinking water, spinach, leeks and milk, according to the New Scientist. However, these warnings are not expected to affect individuals in the U.S.

Because there is currently no projected risk of radiation exposure in the U.S., the statement's health organizations recommended that individuals refrain from taking potassium iodide pills.

In the joint statement, health officials said that potassium iodide can have negative health effects when taken during occasions that are not considered radiation emergencies. These include allergic reactions, rashes, salivary gland inflammation and hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism in rare cases.

The agencies noted that they will release further information if exposure to radioactive iodine becomes a risk for Americans.