The changing incidence of thyroid cancer
During the past few decades, the incidence of thyroid cancer has increased substantially in many countries, including the USA. The rise in incidence seems to be attributable both to the growing use of diagnostic imaging and fine-needle aspiration biopsy, which has led to enhanced detection and diagnosis of subclinical thyroid cancers, and environmental factors. The latest American Thyroid Association (ATA) practice guidelines for the management of adult patients with thyroid nodules and differentiated thyroid cancer differ substantially from the previous ATA guidelines published in 2009. Specifically, the problems of overdiagnosis and overtreatment of a disease that is typically indolent, where treatment-related morbidity might not be justified by a survival benefit, now seem to be acknowledged. As few modifiable risk factors for thyroid cancer have been established, the specific environmental factors that have contributed to the rising incidence of thyroid cancer remain speculative. However, the findings of several large, well-designed epidemiological studies have provided new information about exposures (such as obesity) that might influence the development of thyroid cancer. In this Review, we describe the changing incidence of thyroid cancer, suggest potential explanations for these trends, emphasize the implications for patients and highlight ongoing and potential strategies to combat this growing clinical and public health issue.
Nat Rev Endocrinol 2016; 12: 646–653. doi:10.1038/nrendo.2016.110