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Kristin Hayes, R.N.

Thyroid Cancer Rates Increasing? Uh, Ya

By December 30, 2009

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I was diagnosed with papillary carcinoma of the thyroid at the age of 24. Back then, (ha, ha, 2003), it was still one of the rarest cancers in the United States. My editor sends out hot Google topics of the week to let us know which searches are up and coming. Among them this week, the incidence of thyroid cancer, which is rising among women. When I was diagnosed, I had been a nurse for three years and knew absolutely nothing about thyroid cancer. I'd never crossed a person who had it in my life, in the hospital or out.

My oncologist told me that there had been a recent increase in the incidence in thyroid cancer among young women but the cause was unknown. Sure enough my cousin, age 30, was diagnosed just two months after I was. From there, the number of women I knew with thyroid cancer seemed to snowball. My patients have it, my coworkers have it, my neighbors have it. All women.

While a cause still hasn't been pin pointed I can think of a number of environmental factors that could contribute: computers, microwaves, cell phones, all of these modern conveniences have become prevalent in my life time, but that doesn't explain why the increase is in women and not in men. A blog I did a while back on HPV may be related, a new study cited this virus (also responsible for cervical cancer) as being the cause of some head and neck cancers.

Whatever the cause doctors don't seem to have a clue what to do with me. Up until the last decade the average number of thyroid cancer cases in the U.S. hovered somewhere, I think, around 16,000 a year. Most of those cases were from radiation exposure. What few studies were available came from Hiroshima and Chernobyl. Almost every woman I talk to gets a different treatment regime for their thyroid cancer than I did and follow up care seems to consist of whatever your current doctor can dream up. Fortunately, with the exception of certain types of skin cancer thyroid cancer seems to be one of the most curable types of cancer there is. Little consolation, however, when you've sat in a doctors office and been told that you have the oh so dreaded "C" word.

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