More than 65,000 people will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the United States in 2016. Roughly 10,000 of those might not actually have a true form of cancer.
According to an article published in JAMA Oncology, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Medical Association, thyroid tumors currently diagnosed as "noninvasive (meaning not tending to spread) encapsulated follicular variant of papillary thyroid carcinoma (EFVPTC)" have a very low risk of adverse outcome and should instead be termed "noninvasive follicular thyroid neoplasm with papillary-like nuclear features (NIFTP)."
In other words: A thyroid tumor that was once considered to be cancerous is not, and should be labeled as such.
The tumor that these experts would like to reclassify is a small mass located in the thyroid, one of the largest endocrine glands in the neck, which secretes hormones that regulate your metabolism. The cells of the tumor are surrounded by a capsule of fibrous tissue and are not invasive — they have not broken free of the capsule — and therefore, are not likely a threat to your health.
According to Dr. Neelima Chu, a board-certified endocrinologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, the reclassification of these types of tumors will result in a significant reduction in the psychological and clinical consequences associated with the diagnosis of cancer.
Normally, treatment for EFVPTC tumors would be very aggressive and include surgical removal of the entire thyroid along with radioactive iodine treatments and frequent follow-up appointments for life. Now, explains Dr. Chu, those who have a tumor not classified as cancer can be treated far less aggressively.
"Surgery still needs to be done and at least the part of the thyroid that contains the tumor needs to be removed so that the pathologist can examine the tissue to determine whether the tumor is completely surrounded by a capsule of fibrous tissue and whether there is capsular or vascular invasion," she says. "The patients whose tumors will be classified as not cancer will not need further surgery, such as a completion thyroidectomy, and will not require radioactive iodine."
Dr. Chu advises that it is important to note that this reclassification is specifically only for EFVPTC with no invasion. It does not apply to all tumors of this variant. Some of these tumors are cancer because they have capsular invasion or vascular invasion.
Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about the health of your thyroid or have been diagnosed with an EFVPTC. This current research may mean there are new findings related to your diagnosis that could affect your current treatment plan and prognosis.
For the media: To talk with Dr. Chu about new research on thyroid tumors, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.