The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck, right below your Adam’s apple, which produces hormones important for the regulation of heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight. Over the past ten years, cancer rates for this gland have soared — and scientists don’t know why. In fact, thyroid cancer is the fastest increasing cancer rate among both men and women in the U.S., rising over 6.5 percent a year. This startling zip up in thyroid cancers is being seen consistently among all racial and ethnic groups. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates 37,200 new cases will be diagnosed this year and around 1,630 Americans will die from the disease.
Maybe it’s because of a medical and media emphasis on breast, colon and prostate cancer, but for some reason, the alarming trend in thyroid cancer rates has hardly been noticed. But a new project based at American University (AU) in Washington, D.C, has put together clues through solid detective work that may shed light on this medical mystery. Curiously, the project didn’t originate with scientists or doctors but with journalists in the Investigative Reporting Workshop, an organization founded by journalism professors Charles Lewis and Wendell Cochran at AU’s School of Communication.
As Caroline Stetler, an AU journalism graduate student and the Investigative Reporting Workshop staff writer who headed the project, studied the soaring thyroid cancer rate, she discovered that a lot of people in the medical community had assumed there was a simple explanation. They essentially blew of the rise in thyroid cancer, saying it wasn’t really a rise in malignancies, just a rise in the number of cases that were spotted. After all, improved methods of detection such as ultrasound (which was not widely used in hospitals until the early 1980s) now lets doctors find very small cancerous thyroid nodules.
However, by pulling together and examining data from the NCI, the American Thyroid Association, the Mayo Clinic, and numerous published studies, Stetler’s research showed there was a true, if inexplicable, increase in the actual number of thyroid cases. “There is now proof the increasing rate is not just a reflection of improved detection,” said Stetler, a survivor of thyroid cancer herself, in a statement to the media. “But researchers say they really don’t know what is causing the increase.”
Stetler’s research led her to work with Dr. Elaine Ron, a senior investigator at NCI, on research focusing on papillary cancer, the most common type of thyroid cancer. In a study recently published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology and Biomarkers and Prevention, Dr. Ron and her coauthors found that between1980 to 2005, the number of larger thyroid tumors (malignant growths bigger than at least 2 centimeters) increased sharply. These tumors are so large, that they are typically found by doctors who just use their fingers to exam a patient’s neck during a regular physical exam. They aren’t using any ultrasound or any other imaging technique. This fact disproved the theory that there was no real increase in thyroid cancer but, instead, merely more detected cases spotted due to high tech screenings.
So what on earth could be behind the mysterious rise in cancerous thyroid tumors? The answer might not be so mysterious at all but could well be a result of what people are being exposed to in the environment and what they are eating — and how much. For example, in the media statement, the researchers said chemical pollutants, diet and obesity might be to blame. Another potential culprit is increased radiation exposure from the wide use of computed tomography (CT) scans. As previously reported in Natural News (http://www.naturalnews.com/026001.html), a recent study published in the journal Radiology found that CT scans can increase the chances of certain malignancies by 2.7 to 12 percent.
About the author
Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA’s “Healthy Years” newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s “Focus on Health Aging” newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic’s “Men’s Health Advisor” newsletter and many others.