Thyroid cancer is the fastest-increasing cancer in US, doubled in the last 40 years

Photo by LVHN News

Kidney, liver, brain and squamous cell cancers used to be the fastest growing. Not anymore. The incidence of new cases of thyroid cancer has doubled in the last 40 years, making it the fastest-increasing cancer in the US. In the years between 1997 and 2006, the incidence of thyroid cancer increased by 6.5% per year, according to data from the National Cancer Institute.

You can feel the outline of the thyroid gland by touching the area on the neck just below the Adam’s apple. It’s an endocrine (hormone-producing) gland that secretes triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), hormones that regulate metabolism, heart rate and many other functions.

The most common type of thyroid cancer, papillary thyroid cancer, accounts for about 80% of all cases. It usually is diagnosed when patients are in their mid-40s, and women get it about three times more often than men.

In the majority of cases of thyroid cancer, there are no obvious causes. However, there are some exposures and conditions that have been identified as risk factors…

Bromines All Around You

Bromines are common endocrine disruptors, and are part of the halide family, a group of elements that includes fluorine, chlorine and iodine. What makes it so dangerous is that it competes for the same receptors that are used to capture iodine.

If you are exposed to a lot of bromine, your body will not hold on to the iodine that it needs. And iodine affects every tissue in your body — not just your thyroid.

You are already exposed to far too much chlorine and bromine. Bromine can be found in a number of places in your everyday world, including:

Pesticides (specifically methyl bromide, used mainly on strawberries, predominantly in California)

Plastics, like those used to make computers

Bakery goods and some flours often contain a “dough conditioner” called potassium bromate

Soft drinks (including Mountain Dew, Gatorade, Sun Drop, Squirt, Fresca and other citrus-flavored sodas), in the form of brominated vegetable oils (BVOs)

Medications such as Atrovent Inhaler, Atrovent Nasal Spray, Pro-Banthine (for ulcers), and anesthesia agents

Fire retardants (common one is polybromo diphenyl ethers or PBDEs) used in fabrics, carpets, upholstery, and mattresses

Bromine-based hot tub and swimming pool treatments

Radiation exposure. Exposure to high levels of radiation from fallout from nuclear power plant accidents and weapons testing has been linked to thyroid cancer.

Also at risk are adults who were treated with radiation during childhood for chronic conditions, such as acne and enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Radiation was used excessively from the 1940s through the 1960s for benign conditions of the head and neck before the risks were fully understood.

X-rays, Radiotherapy. Those who work around x-ray machines (such as radiation technicians, nurses, and some chiropractors), nuclear power technicians, uranium miners, airline crews, and astronauts.

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland. It greatly increases the risk for thyroid lymphoma, a less common form of thyroid cancer. Patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis also have a significantly greater risk of getting papillary thyroid cancer.

Artificial Coloring. Food colorings still on the market are linked with cancer. Blue 1 and 2, found in beverages, candy, baked goods and pet food, have been linked to cancer in mice. Red 3, used to dye cherries, fruit cocktail, candy, and baked goods, has been shown to cause thyroid tumors in rats.

Acesulfame-K. Also known as acesulfame potassium, represents one of the food additives used for sweetening aliments and drinks. It is approved by the FDA, but there are several potential problems correlated with consumption of this food additive. Even though there are many studies that attest its safety, acesulfame potassium is still suspected of causing benign thyroid tumors.

In rats, the development of such tumors took only 3 months, a period in which the concentration of this additive in the consumed food was between 1 and 5 percent. This is a very short period of time, so the substance is believed to have significant carcinogenic properties.

Goiter. This is an enlarged thyroid gland, commonly caused by low dietary iodine or other environmental factors.

Being overweight increases the risk for thyroid cancer by about 20%. Patients who are obese are even more likely to get it.

Genetics. While the majority of thyroid cancers do not run in families, there are specific genetic syndromes, including multiple endocrine neoplasia, that increase the risk for thyroid cancer.

Keep in mind that the total number of thyroid cancer cases is relatively low. It is estimated that there will be about 60,220 new cases in 2013. (For comparison, about 234,580 new cases of breast cancer and 142,820 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed this year.)


Specialists who treat thyroid cancer agree that they’re seeing more cases in recent years. Some point to toxins in the food supply as a possible source to the increase.

In addition to the risk factors listed above, it’s possible that environmental factors, such as exposure to chemical pollutants, are involved. No definitive study, however, has confirmed environmental agents are responsible.

Also, because women and obese individuals have higher levels of estrogen, it has been suggested that estrogen may be an additional risk factor.

Another factor: Improvements in diagnosis. With the development of ultrasound in the 1980s, it’s now possible to detect thyroid nodules that are smaller than one centimeter (cm) across.

A study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that much of the increase in reported cases of thyroid cancer was due to small tumors that might never have been discovered in the past. Many of these tumors are unlikely to grow large enough to cause symptoms.


A typical symptom of thyroid cancer is a painless lump in the gland. Advanced cases may result in enlarged lymph nodes, changes in the voice (hoarseness), difficulty swallowing or breathing, or even coughing up blood.

Most thyroid nodules are discovered by palpation–doctors feel them when they check the neck during routine exams. Or an abnormality might be discovered when you have an ultrasound or other imaging test for an unrelated condition, such as neck pain after a car accident.

If a nodule is detected, you will be scheduled for blood tests (to check levels of thyroid hormones) and an ultrasound. Then if the nodule still seems suspicious, your doctor may order a fine-needle biopsy to look for cancer cells.

The odds are in your favor: About 95% of thyroid nodules are not cancer. And if it is cancer, it’s likely to be among the most treatable, with a long-term survival rate of about 97%.

Source: Prevent Disease

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