What To Expect With Thyroid Cancer

Differentiated thyroid cancer patients usually have normal life expectancy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Not all cancers are life threatening. That is, people with some forms of cancer will generally have a normal life expectancy. The most common types of thyroid cancers usually don’t affect a patient’s lifespan.

A recent study found that more than 85 percent of patients with differentiated thyroid cancer had a normal life expectancy.

The two most common types of thyroid cancer – papillary thyroid cancer and follicular thyroid cancer – are considered differentiated cancers (DTC). That means the cancerous tissue doesn’t look very different than normal thyroid cells under a microscope.

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Differentiated types make up about 90 percent of the nearly 56,500 thyroid cancers expected to be diagnosed in the US this year.

Frederik A. Verburg, MD, PhD led a study that evaluated data on 2,011 patients treated for differentiated thyroid cancer between 1980 and 2011 at the University Hospital Aachen in Germany. Nearly all of the patients’ treatment included a total thyroidectomy (surgical removal of the thyroid) and radioactive iodine treatment.

The study members were divided into four age groups – under 30, 30-44, 45-59 and 60 and older. Individuals who were diagnosed in their middle years – 45-59 – generally lived as many years as nature intended.

Researchers found that reduced lifespans were seen in people who were diagnosed with advanced stage (stage IV) disease that had metastasized (spread). The 20-year survival for these people was about 29 percent.

Also, patients older than 60 at the time of diagnosis didn’t live as long as those who learned they had the disease when they were younger, 45-59.

The authors concluded, “Life expectancy is not significantly reduced in 86% of DTC patients; only patients at least 45 years old with extensive local invasion, lateral lymph node metastases, and/or distant metastases (TNM stages IVa, IVb, and IVc) at diagnosis showed a clearly lower life expectancy."

This study was published November 20 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

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Review Date: 
November 26, 2012
Last Updated:
April 11, 2013