The number of Americans diagnosed with thyroid cancer has more than doubled over the past 30 years. However, according to research published in the renowned Journal of the American Medical Association, the underlying reason is actually quite positive. We are getting better at diagnosing the problem, which accounts for the swelling incidence of thyroid tumors. And the name of the game with cancer is early detection — the earlier doctors find it, the better the outcome can be for a patient.
Specifically, doctors are detecting more small papillary cancers in the thyroid gland. Shaped like a butterfly, this gland is found in the bottom of the throat and is responsible for producing hormones that regulate a vast array of bodily functions. It is the papillary cancers that have been detected more and more often, suggesting that better diagnostic equipment and better cancer knowledge have permitted us to find the harder-to-see tumors growing in the thyroid.
This type of cancer is more common in women or anyone with a history of thyroid problems or a family history of thyroid cancer. The first outward sign of a problem is a lump or swelling in the neck — if you experience this, you should see your doctor immediately. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 30,000 people will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer this year and around 1,500 people will die due to a tumor.
Another piece of positive news about the rising incidences of thyroid cancer is that the associated death rate has remained the same. There is no leap of people dying throughout the years stretching from 1973 to 2002, suggesting that thyroid cancer is being treated more effectively and that earlier diagnosis are creating favorable prognoses in many patients.
Some figures the researchers dug up included: — In 1973, there were 3.6 thyroid cancer cases per 100,000 people — In 2002, there were 8.7 cases per 100,000 people (a 2.4- fold increase) — Death rate remained the same, at about 0.5 deaths per 100,000 people
The papillary thyroid tumors, as mentioned, accounted for most of the increase. Most thyroid tumors are very small, with about 80% of them being less than two centimeters in length, and about half being less than one centimeter. The fact points to the advances in imaging and other diagnostic techniques over the years that make it easier to spot the growing cancers. This all goes to show that sometimes there is a silver lining in medical findings, even though the news focuses on what many of us fear the most.