Background: The increases in thyroid cancer overall and in the predominant papillary type have been well documented, but trends for follicular thyroid cancer, a less common but more aggressive variant, have not been as well characterized. In this study, we determined the incidence patterns for follicular thyroid cancer and compared trends between the follicular and papillary thyroid cancers in the United States.
Methods: We used the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program to examine incidence in the United States during 1980-2009, stratified by demographic and tumor characteristics. Incidence rates (IR) were calculated, relative risks were expressed as incidence rate ratios (IRR), and temporal trends were expressed as percentage changes and plotted.
Results: Overall we observed a modest increase in age-adjusted follicular thyroid cancer rates among women (31.89%) and men (35.88%). Rates increased most dramatically for regional stage tumors compared to localized tumors in women, whereas the rates for all tumor sizes rose. These findings reveal increases in more aggressive tumors in women in addition to small and localized tumors. The trends for males were different from those among females. Among males, the largest increase was observed for regional and smaller size tumors. The papillary-to-follicular IRR overall was 7.07 [95% confidence interval 6.91-7.24], which varied from 7.37 among Whites to 3.86 among Blacks (SEER race/ethnicity categories), and increased significantly from 3.98 during 1980-1984 to 9.88 during 2005-2009.
Conclusion: The different trends for follicular and papillary types of thyroid cancer illustrate that thyroid cancer is a heterogeneous disease. Our results do not support the hypothesis that increasing thyroid cancer rates are largely due to improvements in detection, and suggest the importance of evaluating thyroid cancer types separately in future studies.