In a new study, researchers found that nearly 25% of low-risk thyroid cancer patients receive more treatment than necessary.
The research was conducted by a team from Thomas Jefferson University.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits over the airway in the neck.
The gland makes hormones that help to control heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and how the body uses energy.
When cells grow out of control in the thyroid, cancer develops.
Nearly a million Americans live with thyroid cancer and doctors will diagnose more than 50,000 new cases this year.
Fortunately, the survival rate for this kind of cancer is one of the best. More than 98% of patients are survivors five years after diagnosis.
Typical treatment for thyroid cancers that have not spread to other parts of the body begins with surgical removal of the gland.
After completing surgery, patients can then go on to receive a second therapy known as radioactive iodine ablation.
Radioactive iodine ablation is therapy taken as a pill. Because iodine is preferentially taken up by the thyroid gland, which relies on iodine to produce hormones, the radiation dose becomes concentrated there.
The high amount of radioactivity in the iodine kills off any lingering cancer cells.
But the treat is quite expensive and for several days to weeks after surgery, patients who receive the radioactive iodine treatment must stay away from small children and pets.
The treatment also has permanent long-term side effects such as altering patients’ perception of taste and the development of other cancers, particularly leukemia.
Patients who have low-risk thyroid cancer (cancers that are small and have not spread to other parts of the body) do not benefit from the additional treatment.
In the new study, the team analyzed more than 32,000 thyroid cancer cases.
They found more than half of patients were low-risk. About 25% of the low-risk patients received radioactive iodine ablation treatment.
The practice carries potential long-term risk to the patient and added financial costs.
The researchers hope the discovery can make people more aware of the fact that some patients are at risk of overtreatment. It may help to shift how doctors treat thyroid cancer patients.
The lead author of the study is Alliric Willis, MD, a thyroid surgeon in the Department of Surgery.
The study is published in the journal Surgical Oncology.
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