Doctors shouldn’t routinely screen adults for thyroid cancer if they have no symptoms or warning signs of the disease, according to the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF).
Doing so could cause more harm than good, said the independent panel of experts as it reaffirmed guidelines it issued in 1996 and 2016.
“While there is very little evidence of the benefits of screening for thyroid cancer, there is considerable evidence of the serious harms of treatment, such as damage to the nerves that control speaking and breathing,” said panel member Karina Davidson in a USPSTF news release.
“What limited evidence is available does not suggest that screening enables people to live longer, healthier lives,” she said.
The thyroid is a hormone-producing gland located in the neck. The hormones produced by the thyroid help regulate the body’s metabolism. There is more than one type of thyroid cancer, but the disease is rare in the United States. Thyroid cancer represents less than 4 percent of all new cancer diagnoses in 2017, the USPSTF said.
The task force reviewed the available evidence on the benefits and risks of screening.
And while screening for the disease does increase the number of people diagnosed with thyroid cancer, it doesn’t reduce death rates associated with the disease, the USPSTF concluded.
“Overdiagnosis occurs because screening for thyroid cancer often identifies small or slow growing tumors that might never affect a person during their lifetime,” said USPSTF member Dr. Seth Landefeld.
“People who are treated for these small tumors are exposed to serious risks from surgery or radiation, but do not receive any real benefit,” he said.
The USPSTF recommendation was published online May 9 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It is also on the USPSTF website at www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org.
The American Cancer Society provides more information on thyroid cancer.