Common Thyroid Cancer Isn't Cancer Anymore

'If it’s not a cancer, let’s not call it a cancer'
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 14, 2016 6:50 PM CDT
Common Thyroid Cancer Isn't Cancer Anymore

A group of 24 doctors from seven countries just reclassified a certain type of thyroid tumor as no longer cancerous, according to a report in JAMA Oncology. That might not seem like that big of a big deal, but it is. The tumor—formerly called EFVPTC (encapsulated follicular variant of papillary thyroid carcinoma) but now known as NIFTP (noninvasive follicular thyroid neoplasm with papillary-like nuclear features), with no C on the end to designate "carcinoma"—is estimated to make up between 10% and 20% of all thyroid cancer diagnoses in Northern America and Europe, according to a press release. The New York Times reports around 10,000 people are diagnosed with it in the US annually. All those people were diagnosed with cancer, which is terrifying psychologically for a patient, and also leads to aggressive, risky—and now officially unnecessary—treatments, such as the removal of the thyroid and radioactive iodine treatments.

Before making the reclassification, the international team of doctors observed more than 200 NIFTP patients for up to 26 years. They determined their tumors "have a very low risk of adverse outcome." NIFTP tumors have a nucleus that looks like cancer, but those cells aren't able to get out of the fibrous tissue that encapsulates them. "If it’s not a cancer, let’s not call it a cancer," the president-elect of the American Thyroid Association tells the Times. Similar efforts to reclassify certain lung, prostate, and breast lesions to avoid over-diagnosing cancer are being called for. "To my knowledge, this is the first time in the modern era a type of cancer is being reclassified as a non-cancer," senior investigator Dr. Yuri Nikiforov says in the press release. "I hope that it will set an example." (This woman says a potato chip led to her cancer diagnosis.)

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