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Two months ago, a study in JAMA Internal Medicine indicated that radioactive iodine, a decades-old pill used to treat hyperthyroidism, may be linked to cancer. But in a highly unusual twist, two of the co-authors subsequently published commentary in a different journal, citing data that was omitted from the JAMA Internal Medicine study to suggest any cancer risk was minimal — and that anti-thyroid medicines may actually have a significantly higher risk of causing cancer.

Now, the National Cancer Institute, which funded the JAMA Internal Medicine study and claims the pair did not have permission to use what it called preliminary data, asked the other journal, Clinical Nuclear Medicine, for a retraction, according to its editor. The NCI, however, denied seeking a retraction. Meanwhile, one of the two dissenting authors has since had a change of heart and wants the commentary retracted.


At its core, this confusing turn of events is the sort of behind-the-scenes dispute that normally may not attract much attention beyond a few researchers. But on a wider scale, the quarrel raises questions about the extent to which seemingly important data should be publicly accessible. At the same time, it holds the potential to trigger a debate over treatments for hyperthyroidism and associated cancer risks.

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