Thyroid cancer is the eleventh most common cancer in the U.S. and makes up nearly 3% of all new cancer diagnoses. It is the sixth most common cancer for women, specifically. Fortunately, most thyroid cancers respond well to treatment, although a small percentage can be very aggressive and deadly.
- An estimated 52,070 new cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2019, with more than 2,170 deaths expected to result from the diagnosis.
- The five-year survival rate for people with thyroid cancer is 98%.
- In the U.S., thyroid cancer incidence has more than tripled in the past three decades. Much of this rise appears to be the result of improved imaging techniques that can detect disease that might not otherwise have been found in the past.
- Women are about three times as likely as men to develop thyroid cancer.
- Although thyroid cancer occurs in all age groups, more than two-thirds of new cases occur in people between the ages of 20 and 55.
- Many patients, especially in the early stages of thyroid cancer, do not experience symptoms. However, as the cancer develops, symptoms can include a lump or nodule in the front of the neck, hoarseness or difficulty speaking, swollen lymph nodes, difficulty swallowing or breathing and pain in the throat or neck.
Source: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2019 and the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Cancer.net website
Thyroid Cancer Research
In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack thyroid cancer – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.
NFCR-funded scientist Dr. Paul Fisher’s laboratory focuses on understanding the molecular and biochemical basis of cancer development and progression, and utilizes this accrued knowledge to improve treatments for all types and stages of cancer, including the ultimate stage – metastasis.
Dr. Fisher and his team have developed the first sensitive and specific imaging agent for bone metastases, which are the greatest cause of fatalities in prostate and other cancers. The molecular imaging technique detects cells that express a gene called AEG-1 – which was originally discovered by Dr. Fisher. The gene has high levels of expression in many types of cancer including papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC), the most common type of thyroid cancer, with limited expression in normal tissues. Preclinical laboratory results demonstrated more accurate imaging of bone metastases than with any currently used imaging method and may lead to great improvements in clinical imaging for patients
NFCR-affiliated scientist Harold F. Dvorak discovered that tumor cells secrete a vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and this seminal discovery provided the molecular basis for the field of angiogenesis (meaning “blood vessel formation”). Angiogenesis makes it possible for tumors to grow and spread, and Dr. Dvorak’s discovery helped pave the way for research on anti-angiogenesis treatments that can halt and even reverse tumor growth.
In 2004, the first VEGF-targeting anti-angiogenic drug Avastin® was approved by the FDA for the treatment of colorectal cancer, and, today, in addition to colorectal cancer, Avastin is approved for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer, renal cell carcinoma, the aggressive brain cancer glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) and certain types of cervical and ovarian cancers. More than 280 clinical trials are currently investigating the use of Avastin in over 50 tumor types. Two other anti-angiogenic drugs that target the receptors that bind to VEGF are currently in a Phase I/II trial and a Phase III trial to treat thyroid cancer.