Mainstream medicine has reported in recent years that the incidence of papillary thyroid cancer - the most common form of thyroid malignancy - is growing at an alarming rate. In fact, the number of people diagnosed with this form of cancer, which typically arises as an irregular mass in an otherwise normal thyroid gland, has tripled over the past three decades. But a new study by Dartmouth Medical School researchers has come up with good news about this so-called "epidemic".
First of all, the cases of papillary thyroid cancer have most likely only appeared to increase -- simply because of the huge surge in the use of ultrasound tests and biopsies. And it turns out the vast majority of people with this cancer survive it just fine, even if they receive no treatment at all.
Background information included in the study, which was just published in the May issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery explains that papillary thyroid cancer is commonly found on autopsy among people who died of other causes. "Studies published as early as 1947 demonstrated it, and more recently, a report has shown that nearly every thyroid gland might be found to have a cancer if examined closely enough," the study authors wrote. "The advent of ultrasonography and fine-needle aspiration biopsy has allowed many previously undetected cancers to be identified, changing the epidemiology of the disease. Over the past 30 years, the detected incidence of thyroid cancer has increased three-fold, the entire increase attributable to papillary thyroid cancer and 87% of the increase attributable to tumors measuring less than 2 centimeters."
Louise Davies, M.D., of Dartmouth Medical School and Gilbert Welch, M.D., of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, investigated thyroid cancer cases and gathered data about the patients' treatment from National Cancer Institute (NCI) registries. Then they looked for causes of death through the National Vital Statistics System.
The researchers found that out of 35,663 people with papillary thyroid cancer which had not spread to the lymph nodes or other areas at diagnosis, 440 (1.2 percent) did not undergo immediate, definitive treatment (i.e. surgery). Six years later, follow-up research showed that only six of these patients had died of their cancer. This was virtually the same rate of cancer deaths among the 35,223 individuals who did undergo treatment, which involved having part or all of their thyroids removed.
Specifically, the 20-year survival rate from cancer was 97 percent for those who did not receive treatment and 99 percent for those who did -- a slight difference the Dartmouth scientists noted was not statistically significant. Bottom line: almost everyone diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer of any size confined to the thyroid survived whether they had treatment or not.