What is the prevalence of thyroid cancer in the US?

Updated: May 14, 2020
  • Author: Pramod K Sharma, MD; Chief Editor: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA  more...
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Thyroid cancers represent approximately 1% of new cancer diagnoses each year. About 23,500 cases of thyroid cancer are diagnosed annually in the United States. The incidence of the disease is three times higher in women than in men; a study by Weir et al, from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), predicted that by 2020, the largest increases in the annual number of cancer cases in women will be for cancers of the lung, breast, uterus, and thyroid. [5] The incidence of thyroid cancer peaks in the third and fourth decades of life.

A study by Davies et al using data from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program and the National Vital Statistics System found that between 1975 and 2009, the rate of thyroid cancer among adults in the United States rose from 4.9 per 100,000 individuals to 14.3 per 100,000 persons. In women, the absolute increase in thyroid cancer was determined to be nearly four times that in men. [6]

Thyroid cancers are divided into papillary carcinomas, follicular carcinomas, medullary thyroid carcinomas (MTCs), anaplastic carcinomas, primary thyroid lymphomas, and primary thyroid sarcomas. Papillary carcinoma represents 80% of all thyroid neoplasms. Follicular carcinoma is the second most common thyroid cancer, accounting for approximately 10% of cases. MTCs represent 5-10% of neoplasms. Anaplastic carcinomas account for 1-2%. Primary lymphomas and sarcomas are rare.

Using data on 497 US counties from the SEER Program, Morris et al found that the tripling of the incidence of papillary thyroid cancer in the past 3 decades is directly correlated with demographic and age-based markers of access to health care, suggesting widespread overdiagnosis of the disease. Supporting this conclusion, rates of mortality from thyroid cancer remained stable during this period (staying at about 0.5 deaths per 100,000 individuals between 1975 and 2009, according to the aforemention study by Davies and colleagues). [7, 8, 6]

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