Endocrine Journal
Online ISSN : 1348-4540
Print ISSN : 0918-8959
Natural history of thyroid cancer [Review]
Toru Takano
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JOURNALS FREE ACCESS Advance online publication

Article ID: EJ17-0026


Thyroid cancers have long been considered to arise in middle age and, after their repeated proliferation, resulting in further damage to the genome, they progress to more aggressive and lethal cancers. However, in 2014, some studies were reported that might lead to a marked change in our understanding of the natural history of thyroid cancer. A high prevalence of papillary carcinoma in the young suggested that the first initiation of thyroid cancer is likely to occur in the infantile period. Such a conclusion was also supported by a very slow growth rate of papillary microcarcinomas (PMCs) in an observation trial. The proliferation rate of PMCs was negatively correlated with the age, and surgery to remove PMCs did not contribute to reduce mortality from thyroid cancer. These findings strongly suggested the existence of self-limiting cancers, which are truly malignant but do not progress to lethal cancers, for the first time in human history. The early detection of self-limiting cancers results in overdiagnosis. Ultrasonographic screening of the thyroid in the young should be avoided. Lethal thyroid cancers, whose origin is still unknown, appear suddenly after middle age. In the elderly, thyroid cancers are a mixture of self-limiting and lethal cancers; thus, when thyroid cancer is detected, careful follow-up with examination of its growth rate is required.

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