Background: Thyroid cancer incidence is increasing throughout the world. Most studies attribute this rise entirely to the increase in papillary carcinoma, the most common thyroid malignancy in iodine-sufficient areas. A variety of nonetiological factors such as changes in clinical practice may affect the incidence of thyroid cancer and some researchers have suggested that this rise is only apparent due to an increase in diagnostic activity. Since data on the epidemiology of thyroid cancer in Spain are scarce, the main goal of this study was to analyze changes in thyroid cancer presentation, incidence, and prevalence in Vigo (northwestern Spain) between 1978 and 2001, and to investigate the relationship between the incidence rates and trends in tumor size and thyroid surgery.
Methods: In this descriptive epidemiologic study, an analysis was carried out on new thyroid cancer cases obtained from the Pathology Registry of the University Hospital of Vigo (500,000 inhabitants). Trends in age, sex, thyroid surgery, histological type, tumor size, and incidence rates were calculated. The prevalence of thyroid cancer was determined in three cross-sectional surveys.
Results: The rate of population undergoing thyroid surgery significantly increased over time. Out of 322 new primary thyroid cancers, papillary thyroid cancer (PTC) was the predominant type (76%). The age-standardized incidence rate shows a significant increase in females: 1.56 per 100,000 year (1978 to 1985) to 3.83 (1986 to 1993) and 8.23 (1994 to 2001); and in males: 0.33, 1.19, and 2.65, respectively. PTC was mainly responsible for this pattern and was the result of both the increase in micropapillary thyroid carcinoma (MPTC) incidence and in PTC measuring more than 1 cm. Besides MPTC cases, no significant variations were observed in tumor size over time.
Conclusions: In northwestern Spain, the incidence of thyroid cancer is increasing. These data should be taken into account when planning health resources for these patients. Our results may reflect the contribution that other factors, besides increased diagnostic activity, have made to the rise in thyroid cancer incidence in our region. Additional studies are needed to explain the rise in PTC incidence throughout the world and to search for potential risk factors that are currently unrecognized.