Health

Thursday 31 July 2014

Thyroid cancer bigger threat to women

Thyroid cancer is a rare form of the disease but Irish women are two-and-a-half times more at risk of developing it than men.

An average of 162 people every year are newly diagnosed with this form of cancer which affects the thyroid gland – a small gland at the base of the throat.

Women have a one-in-240 chance of developing it compared to a one-in-580 risk for men, according to a report by the National Cancer Registry.

The reason women are more prone to the disease is still unclear, although it is thought it may be linked to hormonal changes that are associated with the female reproductive system.

The report found that more than one in two women are under the age of 50 years when diagnosed compared to one-third of men.

Less than one in 10 of all patients were over the age of 80 years at the time of diagnosis.

The incidence rates have increased significantly in both men and women since the mid-1990s, although it has been more striking among women.

The numbers of new female cases have gone up from 40 to 120, while for men the rise has been from 20 to 45 cases.

The report said that death rates from the disease were low and varied little from year to year.

"Little overall change was observed in males but there was a clear decline in females. From the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, up to 30 female deaths per year were registered, but recent female mortality is considerably lower."

The incidence across Europe varies, and Irish rates are ranked amongst the lowest of 24 countries.

The highest female incidence rates, over 15 cases per 100,000 per year, were recorded in France, Italy and Croatia, and the lowest rates were found in Greece, Netherlands and Romania.

Surgery is the main treatment for thyroid cancer, and 84pc of all patients diagnosed have had tumour-directed surgery.

The two most common thyroid conditions – an underactive or overactive thyroid – do not increase the risk of the cancer.

But other non-cancerous conditions affecting the thyroid can increase your risk, including nodules (a little lump), an enlarged thyroid or inflammation of the thyroid.

Symptoms which should be checked out include:

• A lump at the base of your neck

• A hoarse voice that lasts for more than a few weeks

• A sore throat or difficulty swallowing that does not get better

• A lump elsewhere in the neck

More of these cancers are not being picked up incidentally when the patient goes for another test or treatment.

There has been a fall in the numbers of newly diagnosed patients who go to the doctor with symptoms.

There has been debate about whether patients with very early stage tumours are being over-diagnosed and given treatment, which itself can carry risks.

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