In most studies on radiation workers, the incidence of thyroid cancer was determined to be higher than among the general population; this is generally assumed to be due to overdiagnosis through thyroid screening. However, there is a lack of evidence on the association between thyroid screening and increased thyroid cancer incidence in most occupational studies. In this study, we compared thyroid cancer screening rates between the general population and radiation workers with various occupations and examined the relationship between these rates and thyroid cancer incidence. We compared thyroid screening rates between radiation workers and the general population with age- and sex-standardized screening ratios (SSRs) using data from two national surveys conducted during 2015–2017 in Korea, and assessed the correlation between these ratios and age- and sex-standardized incidence ratios (SIRs) for thyroid cancer. Screening rates were higher among radiation workers than among the general population, with an overall SSR of 1.58 (95% confidence interval: 1.54–1.62). When various types of occupations were compared, those with an increased SSR also had an increased SIR. SSRs remained high even when the screening period was restricted to the year preceding the survey (the year after the establishment of guidelines for thyroid cancer screening aimed at reducing overdiagnosis). In conclusion, the increased incidence of thyroid cancer among radiation workers compared to that among the general population can be attributed mainly to increased thyroid screening rates. Additional efforts are needed to reduce unnecessary thyroid cancer screening in occupational populations, particularly in those with better access to healthcare, in terms of clinical rationale and for assessing the true increase in thyroid cancer incidence.
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Vol. 195 • No. 4