Background: The increasing incidence of thyroid cancer in the United States is well documented. In this study, we assessed the incidence patterns by histologic type according to demographic and tumor characteristics to further our understanding of these cancers.
Methods: We used the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program for cases diagnosed during 1992-2006 to investigate patterns for the four major histologic types of thyroid cancer by gender, race/ethnicity, and age as well as registry, tumor stage, and size.
Results: Among women, papillary thyroid cancer rates were highest among Asians (10.96 per 100,000 woman-years) and lowest among blacks (4.90 per 100,000 woman-years); follicular cancer rates did not vary substantially by race/ethnicity (p-values >0.05), medullary cancer rates were highest among Hispanics (0.21 per 100,000 woman-years) and whites (0.22 per 100,000 woman-years), and anaplastic rates were highest among Hispanics (0.17 per 100,000 woman-years). Among men, both papillary and follicular thyroid cancer rates were highest among whites (3.58 and 0.58 per 100,000 man-years, respectively), medullary cancer rates were highest among Hispanics (0.18 per 100,000 man-years), and anaplastic rates were highest among Asians (0.11 per 100,000 man-years). Racial/ethnic-specific rates did not vary notably across registries. In contrast to age-specific rates of papillary thyroid cancer that peaked in midlife (age 50), especially pronounced among women, rates for follicular, medullary, and anaplastic types continued to rise across virtually the entire age range, especially for anaplastic carcinomas. Female-to-male incidence rate ratios among whites decreased with age most steeply for the follicular type and least steeply for the medullary type; it was <1 until the very oldest ages for the anaplastic type.
Conclusion: We conclude that the similar age-specific patterns and lack of geographical variation across the SEER racial/ethnic groups indicate that detection effects cannot completely explain the observed thyroid cancer incidence patterns as variation in the amount or quality of healthcare provided has been shown to vary by SEER racial/ethnic groups, gender, and age. We find that the variations in age-specific patterns by gender and across histologic types are intriguing and recommend that future etiologic investigation focus on exogenous and endogenous exposures that are experienced similarly by racial/ethnic groups, more strongly among women, and distinctively by age.