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The main form of treatment for follicular thyroid cancer is the surgical removal of all or part of the thyroid gland. Radioactive iodine treatment (RAI) for follicular thyroid cancer is sometimes administered after a thyroidectomy. The goal of RAI therapy is to prevent a recurrence by destroying residual cancer cells.

How does RAI therapy work?

In order to produce vital thyroid hormones, the thyroid gland must receive iodine, which is not naturally produced by the body. Instead, the thyroid must derive iodine from certain foods, such as table salt, seafood and dairy products. RAI treatment takes advantage of a unique characteristic of thyroid cells, which are the only cells in the body that are capable of absorbing iodine from the bloodstream.

RAI treatment involves having a patient swallow a capsule containing radioactively charged iodine. If follicular thyroid cancer cells absorb the radioactive iodine, those cells will be destroyed. Because the radioactive iodine circulates throughout the body via the bloodstream, it can potentially reach follicular thyroid cancer cells that have spread to other tissues and organs.

RAI treatment is a targeted form of internal radiotherapy. While the radioactive iodine may be absorbed by follicular thyroid cancer cells throughout the body, it will have minimal effect on healthy cells.

RAI treatment at Moffitt

At Moffitt Cancer Center, the scientists and clinicians in our thyroid clinic are continually exploring new ways to increase the effectiveness of RAI therapy in destroying follicular thyroid cancer cells that remain after surgery. Our endocrinologists and nuclear medicine specialists offer individualized advice on how to prepare for RAI therapy by following a low-iodine diet and avoiding sources of excess iodine, such as certain vitamins and medications.

If you would like to learn more about radioactive iodine treatment for follicular thyroid cancer, you can request an appointment with a specialist at Moffitt by calling 1-888-663-3488 or submitting a new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.