Study: Spike in thyroid cancer among South Koreans may be result of overdiagnosis
As The New York Times notes, the most common cancer afflicting South Korea — eclipsing that of breast, lung, prostate or colon cancers — is thyroid cancer. In the last 20 years, thyroid cancer diagnoses in South Korea have shot up fifteenfold. While the disease has become more common in other parts of the world during that same time frame — in just the United States, thyroid cancer rates have doubled since 1994 — no other region comes close to seeing the same level of increase as South Korea. But a new study indicates that it may not be that exponentially more South Koreans are suffering from the disease, but rather more doctors are overdiagnosing and aggressively treating it when it may actually be wiser to leave it alone.
According to the Times, while more widespread thyroid cancer screenings in the US and Europe have allowed for more cancer diagnoses, the death rate associated with this disease hasn't changed much at all. If these screenings were actually saving lives by detecting cancers early, then those rates should be dropping, not stagnating. What this data essentially tells researchers is that doctors may be overdiagnosing the disease, finding thyroid tumors that — while they may be in the body — don't necessarily pose harm to the patient because of their slow growth (or lack of growth at all). In those cases, while patients will hear the word "tumor" and want it treated as quickly and aggressively as possible, such treatments may not be necessary at all.
For the situation in South Korea, this would indicate that more widespread screenings are allowing more doctors to find and treat small thyroid tumors, but many of these tumors may not have required any kind of treatment in the first place.
"It's a warning [...] that we need to be very careful in our advocacy of screening," Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, tells the Times. "We need to be very specific about where we have good data that it saves lives."
Of course, if you do detect a lump or something unusual on your throat that you hadn't noticed before, make sure to tell a doctor right away. From there, your physician can determine whether it or not it's something that would actually require treatment.
Adding more iodine into your diet can provide key to preventing thyroid cancer. Iodine is necessary for ensuring the thyroid gland works the way it's meant to — regulating healthy brain, organ and muscle functions throughout the body. However, the body does not naturally produce this nutrient naturally, so it's critical we ingest enough iodine as part of our day-to-day diet. When the thyroid gland does not receive adequate amounts, it begins to overproduce thyroid hormones, creating goiters and significantly raising the risk for thyroid cancer.
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