New Castle News

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October 3, 2012

‘Magic bullet’: Iodine capsule for thyroid cancer now available here

NEW CASTLE — There is a magic formula for treating thyroid cancer.

It’s a radioactive iodine capsule referred to as I-131 and is being used at UPMC Cancer Center in New Castle. The facility now has the license to offer thyroid cancer treatment in the form of a single dose of the radioactive iodine.

“This is not a new treatment but is new at the cancer center,” explained Dr. Steven Wilson, radiation oncologist.

Because of that, Shenango Township resident Mary Lou “Lou Lou” Gilliland didn’t have to travel to Pittsburgh in June to receive the treatment.

Gilliland, 65, had half of her thyroid removed 25 years ago because of a goiter. In 2009, blood work revealed nodules on one side — most likely a result of radiation she received as a baby to treat sinus issues.

“I was told that increased the susceptibility for thyroid cancer,” Gilliland said.

The nodules and some cancer cells were removed during surgery at a Pittsburgh hospital. She then went off her medication, Synthroid, started another medication for five days, began a low iodine diet and underwent a full body scan.

“Once there’s any sign of cancer, they need to do the scan once a year, every year, for five years. Even with surgery, one or two cancer cells could remain elsewhere in the body, and the (iodine) pill will kill those cells.”

Thyroid cancer patients live longer and have a better survival rate than other types of cancer, according to Wilson.

“There is about a 10 percent mortality rate with thyroid cancer, if it is left untreated,” Wilson said.

Along with Jeffrey Meditz, nuclear medicine technician, Wilson administers the iodine capsule to patients, which is swallowed and travels directly to the bloodstream.

“It’s one treatment and truly is the original magic bullet because it goes right to the cancer and kills it.”

According to the physician, I-131 stuns the production of thyroid hormones “to scale it back to make it less active.”

Just 10 years ago, that type of procedure would have been followed by a five-day hospital stay, Meditz confirmed.

Still, upon returning home, a patient must keep at least  three feet away from humans and pets for five days and avoid food preparation.

Side effects of the capsule are minimal, although sometimes there may be a little nausea, dry mouth and sore salivary glands, Meditz said.

Overall, though, treatment is much less grueling than for victims of other types of cancer, who must undergo chemotherapy and radiation, Wilson pointed out.

“A lot more people would die from thyroid cancer if they didn’t have the capsules. I wish we had something like this for every cancer.”

The treatment also is used for other types of thyroid disease including hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid, which is very common, said Meditz, who is pleased the treatment can be offered locally.

For follow-up treatment and preventative measures, Gilliland is ecstatic with the convenience of remaining in New Castle.

 “It’s heaven. We’re fortunate to have both Jeff and Dr. Wilson right here.”

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