In recent years, Canada has witnessed a notable increase in the incidence of thyroid cancer, a condition that has sparked concern among healthcare professionals and the public alike. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, it is is estimated that in 2023:

  • 6,300 Canadians will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
  • 270 Canadians will die from this disease.
  • 1,900 men will be diagnosed and 120 will die from it.
  • 4,400 women will be diagnosed and 150 will die from it.

More recently, and alarmingly, Canada’s health system reported a critical shortage of thyroid cancer drugs used to help treat the illness, called Thyrotropin Alfa, back in June 2023.

According to a spokesperson from Health Canada, Canadian health care systems were conserving the existing supplies of Thyrotropin Alfa, while waiting for more supplies from a drug company that “promised to accelerate manufacturing.” 

Health Canada said that cancer drug shortages can occur from a number of different reasons, such as issues at a manufacturing site, a shipping delay, difficulty in obtaining raw materials or ingredients, a discontinuation of a drug, or an unexpected increase in demand.

As of this publishing date, supplies of Thyrotropin Alfa seem to have stabilized.

Understanding Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer originates in the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped organ located at the base of the neck. This gland plays an important role in regulating metabolism, heart rate, and body temperature through the production of thyroid hormones. 

This type of cancer is classified into several types, with papillary and follicular carcinomas being the most common. These types generally have a good prognosis if detected early.

Rising Incidence Rates in Canada

Statistics from the Canadian Cancer Society reveal a concerning trend: the incidence of thyroid cancer has been steadily rising over the past few decades. In 2020, it was estimated that 6,800 Canadians would be diagnosed with this disease, representing about 3.6 per cent of all new cancer cases in the country. 

The reasons for this increase are complicated, including improved detection methods and a potential rise in environmental risk factors. For example, dietary patterns and exposure to certain chemicals are being researched for their potential links to thyroid cancer.

Causes and Risk Factors

While the exact causes of thyroid cancer remain largely unknown, several risk factors have been identified. These include exposure to radiation, family history of thyroid cancer, and certain genetic conditions. 

Studies are examining the role of obesity, dietary patterns (such as low iodine intake), and exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in some plastics and pesticides. However, one of the most intriguing aspects is its higher prevalence in women, particularly before menopause.

Gender Disparity: The Role of Estrogen

Research suggests that hormonal factors, specifically estrogen, play a significant role in the higher incidence of thyroid cancer in women. Estrogen is known to influence the growth of thyroid cells and may contribute to the development of cancerous changes. 

Studies indicate that women are three times more likely to develop this disease than men, with the disparity being most pronounced in the years before menopause. This interaction might explain why the gender disparity in thyroid cancer is most evident before menopause when estrogen levels are higher.

Thyroid Cancer in Men

While less common, men are not immune to thyroid cancer. The reasons behind its occurrence in men are less understood, but factors like radiation exposure and family history remain significant. 

The prognosis for men diagnosed with it is generally similar to that for women, though some studies suggest differences in disease progression and response to treatment.

Diagnosis and Testing

Early detection of thyroid cancer is critical for effective treatment. Common diagnostic tests include physical examination, blood tests to measure thyroid hormone levels, ultrasound, and fine-needle aspiration biopsy. 

New molecular tests are being developed to better classify thyroid nodules, aiding in distinguishing between benign and malignant cases. This precision is crucial in avoiding over-treatment, a concern in thyroid cancer management. 

The Canadian healthcare system offers these publicly funded diagnostic services, emphasizing the importance of early detection. Your doctor will need to make a referral for publicly funded testing.

Organizations such as Blood Tests Canada also offer private blood tests in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba. 

The prices of private blood tests varies by a number of factors, including which province you are in, the company that offers these services and what type of test you are looking to get and how extensive it is. An estimated cost can be anywhere from $50 and up depending on the above me mentioned aspects.

Here are the following steps to get a private blood test in Ontario:

  1. Order online at Blood Tests Canada by selecting your required blood tests from their test menu.
  2. After ordering, you will receive a confirmation email and lab form immediately and you’ll be able to arrange an appointment at your local Dynacare patient service centre – these are located throughout Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
  3. Ensure you have checked if you need to fast before attending your blood draw.
  4. Wait for your blood test results. Once they’re ready, they will send them to you via email within the turnaround time stated on the website.

Protecting Yourself

To reduce the risk of thyroid cancer, individuals are advised to avoid unnecessary exposure to radiation, maintain a healthy diet and minimize exposure to potential endocrine disruptors.  Make sure to get regular medical checkups, especially if you have risk factors. Get a checkup if you have  symptoms such as a lump in the neck, voice changes, difficulty swallowing, or neck pain.

The rising incidence of thyroid cancer in Canada, particularly among women, underscores the need for increased awareness and research. Understanding the role of hormones like estrogen, along with other risk factors, is vital in developing targeted prevention and treatment strategies. As always, staying informed and proactive about health is the best defence against this and other cancers.

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