The Society's 2013 ANNUAL APPEAL
What is Thyroid Cancer?
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck below the larynx (voice box). It contains follicular cells, which use iodine — a mineral found in some foods and in iodized salt — to make hormones that control the body's heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, mental function, and the rate at which food is turned into energy (metabolism). Thyroid cancer begins when cells in the thyroid gland begin to change and grow uncontrollably, forming a nodule (tumor). Ninety percent of all thyroid nodules are benign, but a few are malignant.
An estimated 56,000 new cases of thyroid cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States.
Women are nearly three times more likely to develop a thyroid tumor than men.
Unlike many other types of cancer, which are more common in older people, thyroid cancer occurs mainly in adults between the ages 20 and 55.
The chance of diagnosis has risen considerably in recent years, due in part to improved detection of mall tumors with ultrasound, PET, and CT imaging.
Risk factors include radiation exposure, iodine deficient diets, family history of thyroid or colon growths and some rare genetic diseases.
While many cases of thyroid cancer are cured with surgery alone, some need postoperative administration of radioactive iodine therapy, which is often given to patients with thyroid cancer after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells or thyroid tissue.
Unfortunately, many patients whose thyroid cancer has metastasized have tumors that can no longer absorb radioactive iodine. The 10-year survival of patients with metastatic thyroid cancer that responds to radioactive iodine therapy is 60 percent. The survival rate plummets to 10 percent for those whose tumors do not respond to radioactive iodine therapy.
There have been many attempts to identify drugs to reprogram metastatic thyroid cancer cells and restore their ability to transport iodine, but until the recent studies pioneered at MSKCC none had succeeded in clinical trials.
Advances at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
James A. Fagin, MD, Chief of MSKCC’s Endocrinology Service, and his colleagues have made seminal contributions to the understanding of thyroid cancer pathogenesis through the identification of some of the key therapeutic targets of the disease, and by translating this information to develop mechanism-based therapies for patients with metastatic thyroid cancer. This work recently culminated in a remarkable linical trial, in which patients with tumors that no longer responded to radioiodine were pre-treated with a selective MEK inhibitor, leading to restoration of radioiodine uptake and responsiveness to radioactive iodine therapy in a significant fraction of subjects.
This groundbreaking study, recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine, follows a series of preclinical studies in cells and in mouse models and represents the highest standards of excellence in translational research at MSKCC.
How You Can Help
Memorial Sloan-Kettering has a long and distinguished history in thyroid cancer diagnosis and treatment with a vibrant research program that holds great promise for continued advances. Our vision is to ensure that patients with thyroid cancer have access to the most innovative and potentially impactful therapies. With your support, MSKCC can continue to pioneer groundbreaking clinical trials, establishing new and more effective treatment strategies.
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