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Thyroid cancer treatment rates soar: epidemic or overtreatment?

Over the last few decades, medical technology has made some very important advances. Not only has this impacted the way illness is treated, but also how it's diagnosed. Namely, developments in terms of medical imaging (such as CT scans and MRIs) have helped physicians pinpoint medical problems and order treatments.

A recent study of thyroid cancer diagnoses and treatments might show the other side of the sword: Researchers believe that certain types of cancer might be overdiagnosed and overtreated. Of course, cancer is a medical problem that should never be taken lightly, but medical professionals should do their best to propose thoughtful courses of treatment.

According to the research conducted by scientists at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, instances of thyroid cancer have jumped significantly between 1975 and 2009. At first glance, people might think that this increase is attributed to a massive spike in cases of this illness. In reality, the researchers caution that thyroid cancer remains relatively rare and the increase in diagnoses is attributed to finding papillary thyroid cancer, which is the most common and most treatable form of the illness.

The problem with these increases in detection is that physicians might be ordering treatment that is too aggressive. Statistics cited by the Associated Press say that 85 percent of diagnoses result in full removal of the thyroid, which may not be necessary in every case. As such, physicians should be looking at smarter treatments, rather than jumping to potentially damaging options.

Researchers are currently looking into the problem of overdiagnosing thyroid cancer, which they believe might also be true for other, more common forms of the disease.

Shen practitioners make the wrong diagnosis or order treatments that inflict more damage than good, medical malpractice concerns enter the picture. Ultimately, the hope is that the medical community can develop treatments to parallel the accuracy of diagnostic technology.

Source: Associated Press, "Thyroid cancer cases have soared," Lindsey Tanner, Feb. 20, 2014

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