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Southeast Idaho’s high rate of thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is very common in our area, and has been for years. One local oncologist says, southeast Idaho sees an average of 100 new diagnoses each year.

According to the 2016 education board, thyroid cancer is the most rapidly increasing cancer diagnosis in the United States.

The American Cancer Society predicts there will be more than 53,000 new cases of thyroid cancer this year; 40,000 of that being in women and the remaining 13,000 in men. The staggering difference is because thyroid cancer is the fifth-most common cancer in women.

Many factors can cause the butterfly-shaped gland to mutate. “But the big one that we know is related to the development of thyroid cancer is exposure to Ionizing radiation,” said Dr. Jeffrey D. Hancock, a hematologist and oncologist in Idaho Falls.

And because of that, the southeast Idaho region is an area of concern. The Nevada test sites have been known to increase cases of thyroid cancer. This affects Idaho because the state gets the aftermath of the radiation from the test sites due to wind travel.

“There was actually a formal investigation that was done a number of years ago in and around the test sites in Nevada, primarily, and there was some concern that winds had blown some of that radiation here,” Hancock said.

This was of interest because of the iodine already in our thyroids, and adding radiation to it can provoke a cancer. But there are also man-made and geological factors around the area that increase the exposure to radiation.

“Like radon in people’s basements that seem to be related to a lot of the geology that’s related to the Snake River Area,” Hancock said.

From the 2014 Cancer In Idaho Report, there were 67 cases of thyroid cancer in Ada County, 39 in Bonneville, 10 in Bannock and in Jefferson and 9 in Bingham County.

Although the rates are high in the southeast Idaho region, surgery can solve the vast majority of cases.

“The survival rate for thyroid cancer is excellent. When diagnosed and treated appropriately early, its nearly fully curable. Occasionally people have an evolution of the thyroid cancer that spreads to other places that makes it difficult to treat. But overall, thyroid cancers are among the most curable of all cancers,” Hancock said.

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