- An international team of doctors has downgraded a certain type of thyroid growth from cancer to benign tumor, The New York Times reported.
- The news, reported in Thursday’s issue of JAMA Oncology, means thousands of patients will no longer face thyroid removal, treatment with radioactive iodine, and a lifetime of checkups.
- About 10,000 of the roughly 65,000 thyroid cancer patients annually in the U.S. are believed to have the nonmalignant tumor.
While the tumor’s nucleus looks cancerous, the cells don’t break out of the fibrous capsule that surrounds it, as a cancerous growth would. It has been renamed “noninvasive follicular thyroid neoplasm with papillary-like nuclear features” — rather than the prior name, “encapsulated follicular variant of papillary thyroid carcinoma.”
The reclassification could lead to reviews of other types of cancer, such as tiny, premalignant lumps and lesions in the breast and prostate that show up with sophisticated imaging and are treated as cancerous.
“There’s a growing concern that many of the terms we use don’t match our understanding of the biology of cancer,” Barnett Kramer, director cancer prevention at the National Cancer Institute, told the Times. He added that misrepresenting harmless lesions as cancer puts patients through unnecessary and detrimental treatments.
While major medical centers often treat encapsulated thyroid tumors less aggressively, that’s not the case in smaller hospitals and outside the U.S.
The 24-member reclassification panel was spearheaded by Yuri Nikiforov, vice chairman of the pathology department at the University of Pittsburgh, after he was asked to review a case involving a small lump on a 19-year-old woman’s thyroid.