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.
- 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 Cancer.net 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 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-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.
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.