Thyroid cancer on the rise

May 8, 2009 11:15:11 AM PDT
There are many types of cancers, but some have higher cure rates than others, such as thyroid cancer. It has a 97 percent survival rate, long-term. The problem, however, is the occurance of this cancer is rapidly growing and experts don't know why. Doctors say all cancers have their own patterns of growth and risk factors, and thyroid cancer is no exception. It's not that common, but the number of new cases is growing more rapidly than many other cancers.

Anne Coriston was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She's had surgery to remove the tumor and her prognosis is excellent.

"I knew the survival rate is very high if you are to be diagnosed with cancer," she said. "It's still the word cancer, though."

Jennifer Erario is also a thryroid cancer survivor.

"I just couldn't wrap my mind around the word cancer," she said.

No one can say for sure why this cancer is growing so rapidly, or why it's three times more common in women than in men. And it typically strikes women in their 30s and 40s.

In 1999, 17,000 people were diagnosed with thyroid cancer. In 2008, just nine years later, the number doubled to an estimated 37,000.

Surgeon Mark Urken, with Beth Israel Medical Center, says widespread use of ultrasound to diagnose the disease is one reason why more tumors are being found. But there's more.

"The statistics are so alarming, that when these are analyzed in much greater detail, it appears there is some other component to the rapidly increase rates," Dr. Urken said. "From last year to this year, there's been an 11 percent increase."

While no one is exactly sure why, heredity, chemicals and environmental radiation are all possible factors to the increase in thyroid cancers.

To treat this cancer, the thyroid gland is removed through surgery. Afterwards, patients have to take the drug synthroid, a replacement hormone, or similar generic drugs, for the rest of their lives. Treatment can also include taking radiation pills at home, but in isolation.

Most of these cancers are found during normal check-ups when doctors feel around the throat area. But, as many patients find out, the prognosis is excellent.

"I was shocked and very frightened until I spoke to the doctor to find out this was a very curable cancer," cancer survivor Carolyn Blake said.

For more on self-thyroid testing, go to