Thyroid cancer is on the rise, though treatable

Although papillary thyroid cancer is not common - with about 44,000 cases per year in the U.S. - rates are rapidly increasing, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Some experts speculate that thyroid cancer is on the rise due to exposure to low-dose radiation, The Patriot-News reports.

Pennsylvania has one of the highest rates of thyroid cancer in the country, which is why Dr David Goldenberg, who is a head and neck cancer surgeon and team leader at the Penn State Cancer Institute in Hershey, received a grant to look at the severity of thyroid cancer cases in the state.

Thyroid cancer doesn't often cause symptoms and most patients are diagnosed through a screening as a result of another health complaint. If a needle biopsy of the nodule returns malignant, then the thyroid can be removed. After surgery, recovering patients are often given radioactive iodine in the form of a drink. If any thyroid cancer tissue is left, the iodine will kill it. Following treatment, if scans show no residual tissue, individuals will receive annual blood work to test levels of thyroglobulin, a protein made by the thyroid. Since the thyroid has been removed, no traces of the protein should be present.

According to Goldberg, the best thing about thyroid cancer is that it's very treatable when detected early. The cure rate is more than 90 percent, and it usually doesn’t recur. However, about 1,700 people will die from the disease this year, according to NCI.