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New thyroid research

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December 21st, 2010

January is the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists Thyroid Awareness Month. Thyroid disorders are common, and the number of patients with thyroid cancer is rapidly increasing worldwide. In fact, thyroid cancer is the fastest growing cancer diagnosed in women.

Radioactive iodine may be unnecessary

Researchers from the Papillary Thyroid Cancer Study Group in Italy have found that certain patients with very low risk thyroid cancer may not need radioactive iodine, a therapy often used in conjunction with thyroid surgery when cancer is diagnosed. Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type of thyroid cancer. Some cases, however, are small and considered very low risk. These are called papillary microcarcinoma tumors that are smaller than one centimeter in diameter. The study showed that in patients with this type of cancer, there was no difference in outcome between those who had surgery to remove most or all of the thyroid gland and those who had surgery combined with radioactive iodine therapy. Since the use of radioactive iodine is controversial because it poses some risk of radiation exposure to people living with patients who are undergoing the treatment, more study is needed to determine when its use is the most appropriate treatment for thyroid cancer.

Hyperthyroidism may be difficult to detect

A study done at the University Hospital of Birmingham, England, found that hyperthyroidism may be harder to detect in older adults because they may experience fewer symptoms of the disease than younger adults. Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid) is somewhat less common than hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid). The researchers found that older people had fewer symptoms of hyperthyroidism such as heat intolerance, tremors, palpitations, and anxiety, and if they had these symptoms, they were less severe than in younger patients. In fact, older adults tended to report symptoms like shortness of breath and fatigue, which are sometimes associated with an underactive thyroid rather than an overactive one. Researchers emphasize that because of these findings, doctors may need to order more thyroid tests in some people who have atypical symptoms.

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