Given recent innovation in cancer research and public awareness, most cancers are declining in frequency. Unfortunately, thyroid cancer is not following this trend. Thyroid cancer has actually seen an increase in frequency of about 4% every year throughout the last 10 years. In addition, this increase is most significant in the United States. Part of the increase in thyroid cancer detection is likely due to more sophisticated imaging techniques, but there is speculation of other changes, including increases in radiation and changes in diet. For this reason, it is important to bring awareness to thyroid cancer, its risk factors and the path towards improvement.
Thyroid cancer is a devastating disease with interesting idiosyncrasies which are not yet fully understood. It is estimated that nearly 54,000 people will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the U.S. this year. It is likely that over 2,000 people will die from the disease. Women are three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer, but men are more likely to die from the disease upon developing it. Thyroid cancer is the most common cancer in women ages 20 to 34. More information is needed to better understand these statistics, but it is clear that young women need to be aware of their risk for this disease.
There are various risk factors for thyroid cancer which converge on two major themes. The first is iodine. Iodine is necessary for thyroid hormone production and it appears that a deficiency in this element does increase risk of developing cancer. Simultaneously, an excess has been shown to negatively impact thyroid function and lead to cancer. Finding the appropriate balance is important. The second major risk factor is radiation. Radiation from previous cancer treatment, as well as nuclear radiation, is strongly associated with thyroid cancer risk. Breast and colon cancer both too increase thyroid cancer risk. Family history of thyroid cancer is an additional risk factor.
Thyroid cancer produces many symptoms, such as swelling or lumps in the lower front of the neck, pain in the neck and sometimes moving up to the ears, difficulty breathing or swallowing, and a constant cough not due to a viral or bacterial infection. If any of these symptoms appear it is critical to go to a medical professional for a Neck Check or other screening. Regardless of symptoms, always ask your medical professional for a Neck Check during routine visits so they can detect a thyroid nodule if present.
Thyroid cancer currently has many promising immunotherapy-based treatments on the horizon. This is in response to new research which has exposed the genetic underpinnings of the disease. Many researchers are hopeful that major breakthroughs in thyroid cancer treatment will come in the near future. Increasing funding into this research will help the possibility for better treatment become a reality.