Long term side effects

Find about long term side effects of radioactive iodine treatment.

Long term side effects of radioactive iodine treatment vary depending on:

  • your age
  • other medical conditions
  • your dose of radioactive iodine

Some people may have one or more of the following long term side effects.

Side effects

Inflammation of the salivary gland (where spit is made) for some people can be a long term problem. This may cause a dry mouth and permanent changes in taste and smell.

Radioactive iodine treatment can affect the lacrimal glands in your eyes, which make tears. Some people may develop dry eyes and rarely, some people get watery eyes.

Radioactive iodine treatment shouldn’t affect the ability for woman to have children, even with repeated treatments. Some women may have irregular periods after treatment. Men who need repeated treatments may have a lower sperm count and lower testosterone levels. This usually gets better with time. Rarely, it means that you may be unable to father a child (be infertile). Your doctor may suggest putting your sperm in a sperm bank before you start treatment. After this treatment, doctors usually recommend waiting to try and conceive at least:
  • 6 months for women
  • 4 months for men

The research suggests waiting for the advised period of time, won’t increase the risk of abnormalities with future pregnancies or children.

It’s common for people to feel very tired for up to a year after treatment. But energy levels will usually return to normal levels. Most people get back to leading a normal life.

Bone marrow is the spongy substance in the centre of the bones that makes red and white blood cells and platelets. The treatment may stop the bone marrow making so many blood cells. If this happens, you may have
  • lower resistance to infection
  • tiredness
  • breathlessness
  • bruise or bleed more easily

You may need to have blood tests to monitor your blood cell levels. It’s rare for this to be a long term problem after radioactive iodine treatment.

Some people need repeated radioactive iodine treatment for thyroid cancer that’s spread to the lungs. Very rarely, they may develop problems with their lungs. The treatment makes the lung tissue less stretchy. This is called radiation fibrosis, and can make it harder to breathe. Your doctors will keep an eye on your lung function.

After treatment, you may have a slightly increased risk of developing a second cancer. Doctors aren’t exactly sure how much your risk is increased. Most studies suggest it’s a very low increase in risk. Your doctor or nurse will discuss this with you if you’re worried. They can help you weigh up this risk and benefit of treatment.

You’ll need thyroxine tablets to replace the hormones that your thyroid gland normally makes. Your doctors will want to keep your thyroid hormones at a slightly higher level than you’d normally need. This helps stop your body producing another hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH can help some types of thyroid cancer cells to grow.

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