Incidence of thyroid cancer increases while mortality rate dips, experts say

Thyroid cancer research indicates that the disease is being increasingly diagnosed in the U.S., although most healthcare professionals agree that its mortality rate has slightly decreased recently, according to Endocrine Today.

Currently, the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program estimates that one in 111 Americans will be diagnosed with some form of thyroid cancer during his or her life.

Put another way, 44,670 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in a given year, according to SEER. While approximately 1,700 Americans will die of the disease in that time, this reflects a slight decrease in the national mortality rate compared to that of 35 years ago.

Physicians and diagnosticians want to know what caused the decrease in deaths.

The news source reported that many endocrinologists are investigating whether the dip is due to more effective treatment methods or better cancer screening, which is catching smaller papillary thyroid tumors earlier.

In a 2006 study, healthcare professionals with the Department of Veteran Affairs estimated that nearly half of the increase in thyroid cancer diagnoses over a 15-year period was due to the detection of tumors under one centimeter in diameter.

While some doctors agree that improvements in early detection have contributed to the falling morality rate, others told the news organization that few patients - between 1 and 2 percent - die each year from papillary thyroid tumors under two centimeters in diameter.

They added that thyroid cancer is simply a numbers game and that the disease affects a larger number of Americans than ever before, even with the moderate decrease in its lethality.

Ultimately, Endocrine Today said that detection and chemotherapy are the two most effective weapons against thyroid cancers of all types, since it is largely unclear what causes the disease.

Other than radiation, health experts cannot say for sure what triggers thyroid cancer, a malady that affects nearly 1 percent of Americans in their lifetimes, according to the National Institutes of Health.