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Obesity and Overweight Associated with Rise in Papillary Thyroid Cancer Rates

, by DCEG Staff

Anatomy of the thyroid and parathyroid glands; drawing shows the thyroid gland at the base of the throat near the trachea. An inset shows the front and back views. The front view shows that the thyroid is shaped like a butterfly, with the right lobe and left lobe connected by a thin piece of tissue called the isthmus. The back view shows the four pea-sized parathyroid glands. The larynx is also shown.

Overweight and obesity may have contributed to the rapid rise in papillary thyroid cancer (PTC) incidence in the United States according to findings published Oct 22, 2019, in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Since the 1980s, U.S. thyroid cancer rates have been on the rise, partly driven by an increase in small, localized PTCs likely due to growth in use of diagnostic imaging procedures and tools. However, the increase in larger-sized and advanced-stage PTC, paired with a concerning increase in thyroid cancer mortality, suggests other contributing factors. For years, the causes of thyroid cancer remained elusive, apart from childhood and adolescent exposure to ionizing radiation. More recently, several large prospective studies have shown positive associations for excess weight with thyroid cancer incidence and mortality.

Using data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, the National Health Interview Survey and the SEER Program, Cari M. Kitahara, Ph.D., M.H.S., tenure-track-investigator in the Radiation Epidemiology Branch, and colleagues linked the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity in the U.S. to increasing PTC incidence rates during 1995-2015. The investigators estimate that one out of six PTCs, and two out of three large PTCs diagnosed among adults 60 years and older in 2015 may have been caused by overweight and obesity. This study suggests that a substantial proportion of PTCs, especially large PTCs, may be avoided through public health interventions targeting overweight and obesity in the population.


Kitahara, CM et al, Impact of overweight and obesity on U.S. papillary thyroid cancer incidence trends (1995-2015), JNCI, October 22, 2019. DOI: 10.1093/jnci/djz202 [Epub before print]

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