Thyroid cancer, which affects about 11 people per 100,000 each year, seems to be on the rise. It’s a trend that baffles medical researchers. A recent study showed that the increase is not just in smaller tumors, which might have to do with detection, but also in larger ones. Statistics also show people who are overweight have a 20% increase in thyroid cancer; those who are obese have a 53% increase.
“Ten years ago, if I saw four new thyroid cancer patients a year, it would have been a lot,” says G. Irene Minor, a radiation oncologist with Indiana University Health Central Indiana Cancer Center. “Now sometimes I see that many in a month, and I have seen three in a week.”
Thyroid cancer is more common in women younger than 45, Minor said. Doctors don’t know why that’s the case, but thyroid problems in general — such as hyper- or hypo-thyroidism — are more common in women.
Thyroid cancer is three times more common in women than men.
Often, thyroid cancer has no symptoms but is diagnosed when a person or his physician notices a lump in the neck. When symptoms do occur they can include difficulty swallowing or the sensation of a lump in the throat or voice changes.
Autopsies conducted on people who died for non-thyroid-related reasons reveal that as many as 80% of people older than 60 have a thyroid lump or malignancy that went undiagnosed, says Michael Moore, a head and neck surgeon with Indiana University Simon Cancer Center.
“There is definitely something going on,” says Tod Huntley, an otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon with the Center for Ear, Nose, Throat and Allergy in Indianapolis. “How much is due to increased surveillance and detection and how much is due to an actual biological change in disease prevalence, we don’t know, but we know it’s both.”
Obesity, radiation exposure and diets low in fruits and vegetables are three potential culprits, Huntley says.
Source: USA TODAY