A longitudinal study on the radiation-induced thyroid gland changes after external beam radiotherapy of nasopharyngeal carcinoma

Zhixiong Lin, Wing Cheung Vincent Wu, Jing Lin, Huiting Feng, Longhua Chen

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Radiation-induced thyroid disorders have been reported in radiotherapy of head and neck cancers. This study evaluated the radiation-induced damages to thyroid gland in patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC). Methods: Forty-five patients with NPC treated by radiotherapy underwent baseline thyroid hormones (free triiodothyronine, free thyroxine [fT4], and thyrotropin [TSH]) examination and CT scan before radiotherapy. The volume of the thyroid gland was calculated by delineating the structure in the corresponding CT slices using the radiotherapy treatment planning system. The thyroid doses were estimated using the treatment planning system. Subsequent CT scans were conducted at 6, 12, and 18 months after radiotherapy, whereas the hormone levels were assessed at 3, 6, 12, and 18 months after radiotherapy. Trend lines of the volume and hormone level changes against time were plotted. The relationship between the dose and the change of thyroid volume and hormone levels were evaluated using the Pearson correlation test. Results: An average of 20% thyroid volume reduction in the first 6 months and a further 8% shrinkage at 12 months after radiotherapy were observed. The volume reduction was dependent on the mean thyroid doses at 6, 12, and 18 months after radiotherapy (r =-0.399,-0.472, and-0.417, respectively). Serum free triiodothyronine and fT4 levels showed mild changes of <2.5% at 6 months, started to drop by 8.8% and 11.3%, respectively, at 12 months, and became stable at 18 months. The mean serum TSH level increased mildly at 6 months after radiotherapy and more steeply after 18 months. At 18 months after radiotherapy, 12 patients had primary hypothyroidism with an elevated serum TSH, in which 4 of them also presented with low serum fT4. There was a significant difference (p = 0.014) in the mean thyroid doses between patients with hypothyroidism and normal thyroid function. Conclusions: Radiotherapy for patients with NPC caused radiation-induced changes of the thyroid gland. The shrinkage of the gland was greatest in the first 6 months after radiotherapy, whereas the serum fT4 and TSH levels changed at 12 months. Radiation-induced changes were dependent on the mean dose to the gland. Therefore, measures to reduce the thyroid dose in radiotherapy should be considered. 2011.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-23
Number of pages5
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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