Cancer Types | Thyroid Cancer - NFCR

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer is the twelfth 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 in the U.S. Fortunately, most thyroid cancers respond well to treatment, although a small percentage can be very aggressive and deadly.

Key Facts

  • An estimated, 44,280 new cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in  2021, with 2,200 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. This year, the disease will be the most commonly diagnosed cancer in people age 20 to 29.
Source: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2021 and the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s website

Signs and Symptoms

Many patients, especially in the early stages of thyroid cancer, do not experience symptoms. However, as the cancer develops, symptoms can include the following:

  • A lump in the neck, sometimes growing quickly
  • Swelling in the neck
  • Pain in the front of the neck, sometimes going up to the ears
  • Hoarseness or other voice changes that do not go away
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Trouble breathing
  • A constant cough that is not due to a cold
Source: American Cancer Society’s website 2021
Thyroid Cancer RIbbon
new cases expected in 2021
deaths expected in 2021
% five-year survival rate

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.

Harold F. Dvorak, M.D.
Harold F. Dvorak, M.D.

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. In a Phase II clinical trial, thyroid cancer patients are being treated with Avastin with the hope that the treatment may interfere with the ability of the cancer to grow and spread.

Xiang-Lei Yang, Ph.D. and Paul Schimmel, Ph.D.
Xiang-Lei Yang, Ph.D. and Paul Schimmel, Ph.D.

Aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRS) are vital ancient enzymes that make proteins in all living things. Dr. Paul Schimmel and Dr. Xiang-Lei Yang, experts in aaRS research, also study the enzyme’s other unexpected roles. One aaRS, SerRS, inhibits a pro-cancer gene and thwarts cancer’s growth and may play a role in activating the immune system to inhibit tumor progression. Expression of SerRS positively correlates with greater survival in patients with triple negative breast cancer and those with ovarian, colorectal, stomach, and thyroid cancers as well as gliomas SerRS may also be a suppressor of metastasis as enzyme levels are significantly decreased in breast tissue during metastasis. This critical research may lead to a novel way to cancer, offering patients hope for a new therapy. SerRS level could potentially be used as a negative biomarker for metastasis, guiding selection of patients in clinical trials.

Related Content

Understanding Thyroid Cancer: A Serious, But Highly Treatable Disease

September is National Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. Learn more about risk factors, symptoms, and available treatments for a disease predicted to affect more than 50,000 Americans in 2020. September is National Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. And, while you might often overlook the tiny, butterfly-shaped gland, it is worth understanding the important role it plays in keeping your body working like it should. Only slightly larger in size than a quarter, the thyroid produces hormones that help control your heart rate, body temperature, and metabolism, as well as regulate the amount of calcium in your blood. Thyroid Cancer: Are You at Risk? There are three types of thyroid cancer: Differentiated: Differentiated thyroid cancer includes papillary, follicular, and Hürthle cell cancers. Most thyroid cancers are differentiated cancers. These cancers can often be successfully treated and are rarely fatal.1 Medullary: Medullary thyroid cancer accounts for approximately four percent of all thyroid cancers. It is more difficult to diagnose and treat than other thyroid cancers.1 Anaplastic: Anaplastic thyroid cancer is rare, accounting for roughly two percent of all thyroid cancers. It can quickly spread into the neck and other areas of the body, making it very challenging to treat.1 Although anybody can be diagnosed with thyroid cancer — including celebrities like Sofia Vergara, whose journey back to health is spotlighted in this article from WebMD and Rod Stewart — there are risk factors that can increase a person’s chance of being affected by the disease. Some risk factors cannot be controlled, including: Gender: Women are three times more likely to be diagnosed than men; Age: Individuals ages 25-65 are most at risk; Race and Ethnicity: Individuals of Asian descent are at greater risk; Exposure to radiation to the head and neck; Family history of the disease; and Certain genetic conditions, including familial medullary thyroid cancer, multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2A syndrome, and multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2B syndrome. However, other risk factors can be managed, including obesity and iodine in the diet.2 Living a healthy lifestyle, including eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly, can decrease your risk for developing thyroid cancer, and other serious health conditions. Recognizing Thyroid Cancer Symptoms and Understanding Treatments Early stage thyroid cancer often does not cause any symptoms, and is usually discovered during a routine medical exam. As the disease advances, symptoms may begin to appear, including: A visible lump on the neck; Trouble breathing; Trouble or pain when swallowing; Hoarseness Most thyroid cancers can be cured, especially when discovered early. Depending on the type of thyroid cancer and stage at which it is diagnosed, treatment can include one or more of the following options: Surgery, including a lobectomy to remove the lobe that contains the cancer or a thyroidectomy to remove the entire thyroid gland; Radiation therapy, including external radiation therapy or radioactive iodine therapy; Chemotherapy; Thyroid hormone therapy; Targeted therapy; or Watchful waiting Remember that each treatment option has unique benefits and risks. All treatment decisions should be made in consultation with your health care team. Recent Advances in Thyroid Cancer Research The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) is proud to support scientists whose research […]

Blindsided by Thyroid Cancer: Brittany’s Story

Next month, we acknowledge Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month through September. Thyroid cancer is one of the most curable cancers. It has a 95% five-year survival rate and can typically be removed with surgery. Though many individuals diagnosed with thyroid cancer may feel optimistic about their treatment, there are still countless anxieties racing through their mind. Knowing that many people survive this disease doesn’t make a diagnosis any less stressful. This was the case for Brittany George, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer earlier this year. As next month is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, it is important to understand that the battle doesn’t always end when the cancer is removed. Between owning a company with her best friend and traveling to a new country each year, Brittany was truly living her dream. She kept an active lifestyle and seemed to be the epitome of health. However, about two months before her 28th birthday, she scheduled an appointment with a new doctor. Expecting a routine visit, Brittany was shocked when her doctor pointed out a mass on her neck. She was scheduled for an ultrasound, then a biopsy, and was diagnosed with thyroid cancer within a month. “As soon as I was diagnosed, I had to schedule a surgery,” Brittany explained. “I wasn’t nervous about dying, but the surgery still scared me. I was terrified to live without something that regulates the whole body.” To ease her anxieties, Brittany took to the internet to find others who had a similar experience. Between the sheer fear of having cancer and the disappointment in her body’s ‘failure’, she hoped to find solace amongst others who may have felt the same way. Brittany was eager to be reassured that what she was feeling was normal for her situation. However, much to her disappointment, her internet searches were fruitless. Brittany was able to find seemingly endless information about thyroid cancer statistics, but no personal experiences or stories to ease her mind. Determined to relieve her anxieties and nerves, Brittany began using her Instagram to connect with others. With further digging, she was finally able to find many others battling thyroid cancer willing to talk about their experiences. “Talking with other people made me realize that it’s normal to feel a little bit alone and isolated,” Brittany shared. “Even with supportive family and friends, your body and your emotions just feel thrown off.” Once Brittany underwent a successful surgery, she realized that the challenges were far from over. She noticed a dramatic shift in her energy levels, proving it difficult to get through a full work day. In addition to her lack of energy, Brittany also had to patiently wait for her voice to return after her vocal cords were nicked during the surgery. For a busy business owner, a lack of energy and difficulty speaking proved to cause additional stress. “I feel like myself, but there are still some bad days,” Brittany said, two months after her surgery. “I learned to cope by taking some time to myself any time I felt down. I would sometimes just sit outside with no phone and I’ve also started […]

National Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month

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. References: