Why Is Thyroid Cancer Skyrocketing?

Thyroid cancer doubles in last 20 years in England

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

(RxWiki News) Thyroid cancer is usually one folks can live with for a long time. The vast majority – 95 percent – are alive five years after diagnosis. Despite this positive outlook, there’s a disturbing trend with this cancer.

The incidence of thyroid cancer has doubled in England in the past 20 years. The highly treatable cancer is also skyrocketing in the US. Scientists don’t know exactly what’s causing this trend, but they have theories.

The reason for this climb may have to do with enhanced diagnostic technology finding smaller cancers – some of which may never have bothered the individual.

"If you ever have trouble swallowing, see your doctor."

A British team tracked the history of thyroid cancer in England. Oxford Cancer Intelligence Unit investigators found the type of thyroid cancer that’s trending higher is papillary cancer. Thankfully, this is the form of the disease that has the best prognosis (outlook).

In the early 1990’s (1990-1994), thyroid cancer was detected in 1.7 out of every 100,000 people in England. Two decades later (2006-2010), the numbers doubled to 3.4 per 100,000.

In the United States, in 1992, there were 5.93 thyroid cancers found among every 100,000 individuals. By 2008, the ratio was 13.22/100,000 – a 2.23 fold increase in 16 years.

One of the researchers suggests these rates are associated with the increasing numbers of cancer survivors around the world. “We may also be seeing a ‘real’ increase in the incidence of thyroid cancer, some of which may be due to improved long-term survival of other cancers previously treated with radiotherapy to the neck or chest,” David Chadwick, consultant endocrine surgeon at Chesterfield Royal Hospital, said in a statement.

“Sadly, older forms of radiotherapy had a side effect that increased the risk of other cancers later in life.”

Last year, 56,500 Americans were diagnosed with thyroid cancer. There’s no way to currently distinguish fast-growing tumors from those that are slow-growing and potentially harmless. So most people have surgery to remove the thyroid. After surgery, radioactive iodine therapy is used to kill remaining cancer cells while not disturbing healthy ones.

Chris Carrigan, head of the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN), is concerned. “While thyroid cancer is generally a very treatable disease, there is a lot we don’t understand about it. We need to better understand the different forms of the disease so that doctors can predict which patients need more aggressive treatment and which don’t,” he said.

Findings from the British study were detailed in a report published December 14 by the NCIN.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 3, 2013
Last Updated:
January 7, 2013