The study, presented at the Society of Nuclear Medicine, shows that due to new treatments and earlier average diagnosis, thyroid cancer patients can lead healthy lives.
"Ask your oncologist about radioiodine therapy."
Led by Alexis Vrachimis, MD, lead investigator for the department of nuclear medicine at University Hospital Muenster, Germany, concluded that for cancer patients with either papillary or follicular thyroid cancer, there were minor health differences until the cancer had progressed to the most advanced stage, IVc.
Cancer is graded by using different factors, including size, location, growth rate and various molecular characteristics.
Stage IVc is when thyroid cancer stops resembling thyroid tissue under a microscope, a particularly bad sign that scientists formally describe as cellular anaplasia.
But apart from that one advanced stage of thyroid cancer, Dr. Vrachimis was enthusiastic about the research findings, stating that “With these survival rates, patients with differentiated thyroid cancer in stages I-IVa could be considered in various classes of health.”
Differentiated thyroid cancer refers to the two most common types, papillary and follicular thyroid cancer which include roughly 90 percent of all thyroid cancers.
The study included data on 1,502 patients who had been treated with radioiodine therapy. Researchers compared the health of these people to that of their similarly aged peers. National statistics were used in the comparison.
Radioactive iodine is injected into the patients. Since the thyroid is the only location in the body where iodine is absorbed, it is a great way to selectively destroy the thyroid cancer.
Medullary thyroid cancer and anaplastic thyroid cancer, which account for less than 10 percent of all thyroid cancers, do not respond as well to treatment. In many cases, it is because these cancer cells have lost the characteristics of thyroid tissue and no longer absorb iodine, invalidating the treatment.
“This highlights the excellent diagnostic and therapeutic strategies available to patients with differentiated thyroid cancer,” Dr. Vrachimis stated.
During his presentation, Dr. Vrachimis went on to elaborate the powerful changes the last few decades had seen in the treatment of thyroid cancer.
“The excellent survival rates of almost all of our patients are predominantly due to the multidisciplinary optimization of their diagnostic and therapeutic management, including advanced molecular imaging techniques, highly sensitive laboratory assays, excellent endocrine surgery, individualized high-dose radioiodine therapy and lifelong medical surveillance.”
The treatment works well, because the thyroid is also especially sensitive to radiation. Radiation therapy to treat nearby cancers in the head, neck, and chest has been known to cause thyroid cancer, although it is rare.
Findings presented at conferences should be considered preliminary until the research is published in a peer-reviewed journal.
No information on possible financial conflicts of interest from the researcher team was made public.