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Why Is Thyroid Cancer Growing So Fast in the US?

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March 3, 2017

By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist




Thyroid cancer is now the fastest growing cancer in the United State. Or, to put it more accurately, the percentage of growth of cases year-over-year is highest in thyroid cancer than any other cancer --- lung cancer, skin cancer, tongue cancer, you name it. 

Here is an example for comparison. Breast cancer is the second biggest cancer killer of women, behind lung cancer.  But the incidence of breast cancer actually is dropping. In 2017, 12% of women are expected to be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. That's down dramatically from the year 2000, at which point doctors began warning women of the dangers of hormone replacement therapy. In fact, from 2000 to 2003, the incidence of breast cancer dropped 7%.

Thyroid cancer incidence, on the other hand, is climbing steeply. For the period from 1973 to 2003, the incidence of thyroid cancer spiked from 3.6 people per 100,000 to 8.7 people per 100,000, and increase of 240%. 

The scientists who discovered this rise, Dr. Louise Davies of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center VA and Dr. H. Gilbert Welch of the Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover, NH., attributed the rise to better detection of the cancer rather than an underlying rise in the thyroid cancer incidence themselves.

Yet, since 2006, the incidence of thyroid cancer has continued to grow. What were a miniscule number fo cases in the 1970's has now grown to 56,460 cases in 2016. It is estimated that 13,250 of the cases will be men and 43,210 will be women.

So, what can be behind the rise in thyroid cancer cases?

Your THyroid's Function

Your thyroid is a butterfly shaped organ at the base of your neck. Your thyroid produces three hormones which help to regulate many body functions including metabolism. The thyroid's release of hormones affects every cell in your body. An over-release of thyroid hormones makes your heart beat faster and revs up your metabolism. An under-release makes you tired and listless.


Most health authorities opine that we do not now know what causes thyroid cancer. That's true.

But we do know what increases your risk for thyroid cancer.

One of the leading causes is radiation exposure, especially when you are young.  Radiation exposure increases the risk of genetic mutation of cells in your thyroid.  These genetic mutations cause cancer cells to lose their ability to die.

Once the cells lose their ability to die, they keep growing until they form a mass, a tumor. They can then escape the thyroid and spread to other parts of your body, as the cancer metastasizes.

Do Dental X-Rays Cause Thyroid Cancer?














Dental x-rays in particular, have been singled out as possible cause of increased thyroid cancer risk.

A 2010 study led by Dr. A. Memon of the Brighton and Sussex Medical School in the UK examined 626 people, 313 of them who had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Based on the subjects reporting of the number of dental ex-rays they had experienced, the study found that having dental x-rays increases your odds of thyroid cancer by 210%.

The doctors noted that " dental x-rays, particularly multiple exposures, may be associated with an increased risk of thyroid cancer".


The American Cancer Society notes that because x-ray exposure is a known risk factor for thyroid cancer, "doctors no longer use radiation to treat less serious diseases".


How to Protect Your Thyroid During X-Rays

The best way to protect your thyroid if you are having x-rays is to wear a thyroid shield. This is a led covering that wraps round your neck.

I recall having x-rays recently when I developed a root canal problem while on vacation. The doctor and her assistant put on protective led clothing as they positioned the x-ray machine near my jaw. I had all this apparatus in my mouth which had been put there I guess to keep my mouth in position for the x-ray so I couldn't really talk. 

But, I became concerned that I was the only one in the room without an x-ray protective garb. So I mumbled loudly for them to stop. They seemed at first not to notice. I then started to get up from the chair, waving my arms.  That's when they got the message and stopped. The doctor removed the apparatus from my mouth and I asked her "why is it that I am not wearing something to protect my neck from these x-rays?".  She pooh-poohed my concern but I stuck to my guns.

Finally, she took off her x-ray overcoat and gave it to me.

Why is it that doctors protect themselves against x-rays and fail to protect thir patients?

I wish this were an isolated incident but it's not. I've been in dentists office in which you could just tell they were anxious to use their new handy-dandy  360 degree x-ray machine that produces 3D images of my mouth. I said "no". Sorry, you'll just have to use a narrower more precise x-ray machine.  I was not about to allow them to microwave my whole body with x-rays.

The thing is, radiation exposure is cumulative. The x-rays you were exposed to 5 years ago can still elevate, in a miniscule way, your lifetime risk for genetic mutations that lead to cancer. Remember, cancer starts with just one cell mutating. Just one of the 5 billion cells in your body can forget how to die, and there you go, off to the races.

Can You Re- Teach Your Cells to Die?

The go-to first line of treatment for thyroid cancer is radioactive iodine (Radio-iodine 131).  But in some cases, the iodine is not effective.

Scientists have learned that giving thyroid cancer patients curcumin spice helps to greatly increase the effectiveness of iodine to treat thyroid cancer.

Curcumin is spice which gives tumeric and curry their yellow color.  A 2014 study from Mazandaran University of Medical Sciences in Iran found that mixing human thyroid cancer and human non-malignant with different concentrations of curcumin increased the "killing effect" of the iodine.

Curcumin alone at a concentration of  25 µg/ml reduced the cell survival rate by 75%. Cell pre-treated with curcumin, then treated with the radio-iodine had a reduced survival rate of 91%.

Add curcumin to your slow cooked vegetables, fish and chicken and chili.





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