Pill Can Cut Risk of Thyroid Cancer From Fallout
FDA Issues Instructions on Potassium Iodide |
by Mary J. Shomon
Dec. 2001 -- Coming in the wake of concerns about possible nuclear terrorism, on December 10, 2001, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued instructions, calling for broad use of an inexpensive, over-the-counter drug, potassium iodide, in the event of fallout after nuclear attack. When taken within hours of a radiation release, potassium iodide can protect against thyroid cancer.
Children in particular are the most susceptible to the least amount of radiation. In the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl accident, children who were exposed to radioactive fallout had a 30- to 60-fold increased rate of thyroid cancer.
The FDA's action just heightens the controversy over whether or not to stockpile the potassium iodine pills. Some experts advocate keeping sufficient sufficient enough quantities to distribute the pills to everyone at risk in the areas around and downwind of nuclear facilities, even encouraging homes and schools to keep the drug on hand. Other officials are reluctant, claiming that in the event of a nuclear accident or release, their main effort would be to move people away from the fallout path. Currently, only Alabama, Arizona, Maine and Tennessee have substantial stockpiles of potassium iodide. But the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is currently looking at whether potassium iodide should be widely stockpiled.
David Lochbaum, a nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a watchdog group, told the Washington Post: "All the studies I've seen have shown that it does provide protection, particularly for young children. Considering its price, it just seems like a no-brainer. We should have been doing this a long time ago."
The way potassium iodide works is that when taken before heavy exposure to radioactive fallout -- much of which contains a radioactive form of iodine -- the potassium iodide binds to the thyroid's iodine receptors with a safe form of iodine, thereby preventing uptake of the cancer and disease-causing radioactive iodine by the thyroid gland.
The dosing instructions for potassium iodide have been updated by the FDA, with the biggest changes being made to the doses recommended for children and infants, and recommendations that the drug be taken by children and pregnant or nursing mothers at far lower levels of radiation exposure than previously thought
The new FDA guidelines recommend daily doses of potassium iodide at the following levels during the period deemed as dangerous after a radioactive accident:
Potassium iodide is not a prescription drug, and anybody who wants to can buy it inexpensively, though most pharmacies don't stock the drug. You can purchase it online at a variety of sources, including KI4u.com.
- Infants: birth to 1 month less than 1 month old: 16 milligrams.
- Children aged 1 month to 3 years: 32 milligrams.
- Children 3 to 18 years old: 65 milligrams.
- Adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, and adolescents over 150 pounds: 130 milligrams.
The FDA has said that in the event of a radiation disaster, the benefits of potassium iodide far outweigh the minimal risks.
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