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Researchers Seek a Deeper Understanding of Thyroid Cancer Risk Factors and Treatments
September has been declared Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. All month long, the leading thyroid health organizations and associations have mounted targeted campaigns designed to increase the public's awareness of this rapidly spreading disease.
Over the course of the last several decades, the rate of diagnosis of several forms of thyroid cancer has skyrocketed. Today, more than 33,000 new cases of thyroid cancer are reported annually in the United States alone, and more than 1,100 deaths every year are linked to thyroid cancer. Both of these figures represent a significant increase over the government health data for thyroid cancer even a few decades ago.
There remains a great deal of controversy in the medical community over the cause of the apparent recent increase in the rate of thyroid cancer diagnosis. Some researchers have asserted that the increase can probably be attributed to improved diagnostic techniques. Others believe that the increase represents the kind of disease epidemic that can only be caused by changes in the environment.
Although there remains a great deal of heated debate over the cause of the spike in recent thyroid cancer diagnoses, there is a consensus among scientists that more research should be conducted investigating the root causes of the thyroid cancer phenomenon. This week, we'll take a look at some of the most significant recent findings from thyroid cancer studies around the world.
Study Finds Fewer Thyroid Cancer Diagnoses Among African-Americans
Since the rapid increase in thyroid cancer diagnoses was first detected, many studies have sought to focus in on the rate of the detection of the disease among various subgroups and subpopulations. These epidemiological analyses have often yielded surprising results.
For example, a study that was discussed at the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation's annual convention demonstrated that African-American patients are diagnosed with thyroid cancer at a much lower rate than are their non-black counterparts. The researchers found that whites, in particular, were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with thyroid cancer than were African-Americans.
These results are puzzling for several reasons, including the fact that African-Americans usually have a higher rate of both diagnosis and mortality from all types of cancer. Some researchers have questioned whether the disparity may be due to socioeconomic factors, such as less access to medical insurance and primary care, than to medical factors.
Newly-Discovered Genetic Mutation May Guide the Future of Thyroid Cancer Treatment
Because of the continuing controversy over the origins of the spike in thyroid cancer diagnoses over the last several decades, many studies undertaken in recent years have sought to identify possible risk factors for the disease. Recently, researchers at the University of California-San Francisco have pinpointed a genetic mutation that may play an important role in the development of thyroid cancer.
According to the findings, which are scheduled to be published in an upcoming volume of the journal Annals of Surgery, the genetic mutation known as BRAF V600E may play a role not only in the development of thyroid cancer, but also in determining the disease's aggressiveness, intensity, and risk of recurrence.
The researchers argued that this genetic mutation may aid in the development of future treatment methods for thyroid cancer. Based on the presence of the BRAF V600E genetic marker, more effective courses of both prevention and treatment could be instituted in individuals with this risk factor.
New Imaging Technique May Aid in the Early Detection of Thyroid Nodules
As with all forms of cancer, early detection can be a major factor in determining the prognosis of a patient with thyroid cancer. However, traditional methods of detecting thyroid cancer are often unreliable.
Researchers at the University of Pisa in Italy have developed an innovative imaging method that may help clinicians determine the malignancy of thyroid nodules at a much earlier stage than previously thought possible. The technique, which was first described in a recent article in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, relies on a method known as ultrasound elastography.
This specialized form of the traditional ultrasound allows the density and stiffness of thyroid nodules to be assessed at an earlier stage of growth. Both of these characteristics are associated with cancerous thyroid growths.
If you suspect that you might be at risk for developing thyroid cancer, your physician can work with you to develop a personalized plan for prevention and diagnosis. Check this space each week for the latest in thyroid health news.
Note: The contents of this blog are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for professional care. This site should not be used in place of professional medical advice. The author is not a physician. For medical emergencies, call 911!
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