News Release

June 8, 2005

Embargoed until Wednesday, June 8, 5 p.m. EST

Contact: Carolyn Pennington, 860-679-4864

New Findings Support Aggressive Treatment for Most Common Form of Thyroid Cancer

UConn Health Center Research Published in June 9 Issue of NEJM

FARMINGTON, CONN. – A new study by University of Connecticut Health Center researchers helps settle a long-running controversy involving papillary thyroid cancer, the most common form of the disease, and carries implications for its treatment.

In most cases of thyroid cancer, along with the main tumor, a pathologist will typically find small nodules called microcarcinomas. A number of previous studies have tried to determine whether these microscopic tumors broke off from the original cancer and spread within the thyroid gland, or whether they are independent of the main tumor and developed spontaneously. Studies have found patients with these multiple tumors are more likely to have their cancer recur.

“We’re finally settling what has been a controversial question in the cancer field,” says Andrew Arnold, M.D., director of the Center for Molecular Medicine and chief of the Division of Endocrinology at the UConn Health Center. “Our findings show that theses multiple clusters of tumor can often arise independently, which means that such patients are strongly predisposed to developing new papillary thyroid cancers.”

Doctors have often questioned how aggressively to treat thyroid cancer, a disease that typically strikes in the prime of life between the ages of 25 and 65. Surgery is the most common treatment, but some surgeons will typically only remove the side of the thyroid where the cancer is found in order to spare possible damage to surrounding nerves and tissue, or the need for thyroid replacement medication. Other surgeons treat the cancer more aggressively by removing all or nearly all of the thyroid and following up with radiation therapy, an approach that has yielded a decrease in subsequent recurrence of thyroid cancer in some studies.

According to Dr. Arnold, the new findings should help eliminate some surgeons’ doubts about aggressively removing the thyroid when treating papillary cancer. “Any of the tissue you leave is at risk for already harboring microscopic tumors that could eventually grow into disease, or be fertile ground where entirely new cancers can form. That’s why near total removal of the thyroid along with radioactive iodine therapy is the best option.”

The thyroid gland is found at the base of the throat and makes important hormones that help the body function normally. A cancer patient whose thyroid is removed typically does quite well after being given a medication that mimics the action of the thyroid.

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