Statement from Gary Bloom, Executive Director of ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, Inc., August 19, 2016
A number of news articles have recently emerged characterizing the epidemic of thyroid cancer as “overdiagnosis,” typically in reference to papillary microcarcinomas, which are small cancers. ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, Inc. (www.thyca.org), and many of the thousands of survivors we work with, are troubled by this characterization.
The point of these articles should be about the question of treatment, and potentially over-treatment. It is erroneous to classify the situation as one of overdiagnosis, and, more importantly, it is inappropriate to downplay the diagnosis of cancer to the public and those in the health care field. Knowledge is power, and even people with smaller cancers deserve to know what is going on with their bodies.
Furthermore, there is a pervasive generalization that thyroid cancers are not life threatening. This ignores the fact that there are four different types of thyroid cancer: papillary, follicular, medullary and anaplastic. The first two types have aggressive variants that can be difficult to treat, and the last two types are not curable by any current medical definition, with anaplastic requiring prompt and active treatment as the only way to extend the patient’s life.
Finally, these articles often trigger unnecessary upset among people who are currently being treated or have been treated in the past for thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer survivors are fortunate to have more treatment options today for papillary and follicular thyroid cancer than just a few years ago, with an evolution towards a less aggressive treatment approach for most. This is an encouraging step, and means that the standard of care is advancing.
Nevertheless, making blanket statements about “overdiagnosis” may cause people to believe that they were over-treated in the past under different treatment standards, when the emphasis could instead easily be on the positive advances that have been made for those receiving a diagnosis today.
It is our hope that further studies will help advance the dialogue toward greater awareness of this disease, approaches to avoiding delays in diagnosis, and continued exploration of treatment options for all who are living with thyroid cancer.
ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization of thyroid cancer survivors, family members, and health care professionals. We are dedicated to support, education, and communication for thyroid cancer survivors, their families and friends. We also sponsor Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, year-round awareness activities, and thyroid cancer research fundraising and research grants.