It would appear the number of thyroid cancer cases is increasing at a startling rate. However, a new study shows that diagnoses of the disease, rather than the disease itself, are growing.
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The thyroid is a hormone-producing gland in the neck. People between the ages of 25 and 65 and people with a family history of thyroid disease are most at risk. However, thyroid cancer also targets women, Asians, and people who have previously undergone radiation treatments targeting the neck and head.
When diagnosing thyroid cancer, physicians use several measures, including physical exam, blood and imaging tests, and biopsy.
Many medical experts are concerned by a growing number of thyroid cancer cases. In the past forty years, the rate of diagnosis has tripled, from 4.9 cases per 100,000 people to 14.3 cases for every 100,000 people.
But the aforementioned study, which has been published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, found that the number of deaths associated with thyroid cancer has not increased since 1975. The researchers behind the study suspect that this is related to an overdiagnosis of thyroid cancer in recent years.
How could this happen?
Researchers suggest that doctors may be confusing small papillary cancers — which represent a serious but less deadly form of thyroid cancer — are being categorized incorrectly. Those behind the study say it’s time to separate these papillary cancers from more aggressive thyroid cancer.
In conclusion, the authors note: “We found that there is an ongoing epidemic of thyroid cancer in the United States. It does not seem to be an epidemic of disease, however. Instead, it seems to be substantially an epidemic of diagnosis: thyroid cancer incidence has nearly tripled since 1975, while its mortality has remained stable.”