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Thyroid cancer incidence statistics

Incidence statistics for thyroid cancer by country in the UK, age and trends over time are presented here. There are also data by geography and prevalence. 

Find out more about the coding and counting of this data

By country in the UK

Thyroid cancer is the 20th most common cancer in the UK (2011), accounting for less than 1% of all new cases. In females, it is the 18th most common cancer (1% of the female total), whilst in males it is the 20th most common cancer (less than 1% of the male total).1-4

In 2011, there were 2,727 new cases of thyroid cancer in the UK (Table 1.1): 769 (28%) in men and 1,958 (72%) in women, giving a male:female ratio of around 10:25.1-4 The crude incidence rate shows that there are 3 new thyroid cancer cases for every 100,000 males in the UK, and 6 for every 100,000 females.

Thyroid cancer is one of the few cancers which can occur in both sexes but is more common in women than men. This is probably at least partly due to the female sex hormone oestrogen promoting thyroid cell growth, though epidemiological evidence remains unclear.6

For females, the European age-standardised incidence rates (AS rate) are significantly lower in Wales compared with England and Scotland, with no other differences between the other constituent countries of the UK. For males, there are no significant differences in rates between the UK countries (Table 1.1).1-4

Table 1.1: Thyroid Cancer (C73), Number of New Cases, Crude and European Age-Standardised (AS) Incidence Rates per 100,000 Population, UK, 2011

England Wales Scotland Northern Ireland UK
Male Cases 655 39 49 26 769
Crude Rate 2.5 2.6 1.9 2.9 2.5
AS Rate 2.3 2.1 1.7 2.7 2.2
AS Rate - 95% LCL 2.1 1.5 1.2 1.7 2.1
AS Rate - 95% UCL 2.4 2.8 2.2 3.7 2.4
Female Cases 1,660 60 191 47 1,958
Crude Rate 6.2 3.8 7.1 5.1 6.1
AS Rate 5.7 3.5 6.3 4.7 5.6
AS Rate - 95% LCL 5.4 2.6 5.4 3.3 5.3
AS Rate - 95% UCL 5.9 4.4 7.2 6.0 5.8
Persons Cases 2,315 99 240 73 2,727
Crude Rate 4.4 3.2 4.6 4.0 4.3
AS Rate 4.0 2.8 4.1 3.7 3.9
AS Rate - 95% LCL 3.8 2.3 3.6 2.8 3.8
AS Rate - 95% UCL 4.1 3.4 4.6 4.5 4.1

Download this table XLS (33KB) PPT (168KB) PDF (26KB)

95% LCL and 95% UCL are the 95% lower and upper confidence limits around the AS Rate

The latest analysis of thyroid cancer incidence rates throughout England reports modest variation between the former cancer networks, with the highest rates being in parts of the West Midlands, Thames Valley and Yorkshire, and the lowest in parts of the South and parts of the North-East.5

section reviewed 30/04/14
section updated 30/04/14

By age

Thyroid cancer incidence in males is strongly related to age with the highest incidence rates being in older men. However, incidence in females does not entirely follow the pattern of increasing incidence with age seen in males (and in most other cancers). In the UK between 2009 and 2011, an average of 16% of male cases and 12% of female cases were diagnosed in those aged 75 and over. 40% of male cases, and 52% of female cases were diagnosed in those aged under 50 (Figure 1.1).1-4

Age-specific incidence rates in males rise gradually from around age 10-14 years. Rates in females rise sharply from around age 10-14, reaching a peak at ages 35-39, then remaining relatively stable. Incidence rates are higher for females than for males for most age groups (the difference is not significant in the remaining age groups). This gap is widest at age 20-24, when the male:female incidence ratio of age-specific rates (to account for the different proportions of males to females in each age group) is around 10:46 (Figure 1.1).1-4 Hormonal factors may be implicated in the association with age in females.6

Figure 1.1: Thyroid Cancer (C73), Average Number of New Cases per Year and Age-Specific Incidence Rates per 100,000 Population, UK, 2009-2011

cases_crude_thyroid.swf

Download this chart XLS (61KB) PPT (140KB) PDF (335KB)

section reviewed 30/04/14
section updated 30/04/14

Trends over time

Thyroid cancer incidence rates have increased overall in Great Britain since the mid-1970s, though this includes a small increase followed by a period of stability, then a larger increase (Figure 1.2).1-3 For males, European AS incidence rates increased by 16% between 1975-1977 and 1983-1985, then remained stable until 1994-1996 and have since increased by 104%. The overall rise is bigger for females, with rates increasing by 10% between 1975-1977 and 1980-1982, then remaining stable until 1989-1991, and since increasing by 138%. 

Incidental detection of subclinical disease due to widespread use of ultrasound partly explains this increase,7-10 though changes in prevalence of thyroid cancer risk factors including obesity and medical radiation exposure are probably also implicated in the trend.6,11-13

Figure 1.2: Thyroid Cancer (C73), European Age-Standardised Incidence Rates per 100,000 Population, by Sex, Great Britain, 1975-2011

inc_asr_gb_thyroid.swf

Download this chart XLS (56KB) PPT (135KB) PDF (44KB)

Thyroid cancer incidence trends for the UK are shown in Figure 1.3.1-4 Over the last decade (between 2000-2002 and 2009-2011), the European AS incidence rates have increased by 69% and 65% in males and females, respectively.

Figure 1.3: Thyroid Cancer (C73), European Age-Standardised Incidence Rates per 100,000 Population, by Sex, UK, 1993-2011

inc_asr_uk_thyroid.swf

Download this chart XLS (52KB) PPT (133KB) PDF (39KB)

For males, thyroid cancer incidence rates have increased overall for most of the broad age groups in Great Britain since the mid-1970s, though in the younger age groups (0-24, 25-49, 50-59) this includes a period of stability followed by an increase from the 1980s/1990s onwards (Figure 1.4).1-3 The largest overall increase has been for males aged 25-49, with European AS incidence rates almost tripling (increasing by 289%) between 1975-1977 and 2009-2011. For men aged 60-69 and 70-79, incidence rates have fluctuated but overall have increased by 85% and 59% respectively between 1975-1977 and 2009-2011. Incidence rates for men aged 80+ have remained stable in this time period. 

Figure 1.4: Thyroid Cancer (C73), European Age-Standardised Incidence Rates per 100,000 Population, by Age, Males, Great Britain, 1975-2011

inc_asr_age_m_thyroid.swf

Download this chart XLS (69KB) PPT (143KB) PDF (53KB)

For females, thyroid cancer incidence rates have also increased overall for most of the broad age groups in Great Britain between 1975-1977 and 2009-2011, with an initial period of stability for those aged 0-24, 25-49, 50-59 and 60-69 (Figure 1.5).1-3 Following a similar pattern to males, the largest overall increase was in females aged 25-49, with rates more than quadrupling (349% increase) between 1975-1977 and 2009-2011. Only in women aged 80+ have rates remained stable between 1975-1977 and 2009-2011, though they have fluctuated over this time.

The reasons for the larger increases in younger age groups are not clear, though younger people may be more likely to undergo diagnostic procedures through which thyroid cancers are incidentally diagnosed.8

Figure 1.5: Thyroid Cancer (C73), European Age-Standardised Incidence Rates per 100,000 Population, by Age, Females, Great Britain, 1975-2011

inc_asr_age_f_thyroid.swf

Download this chart XLS (67KB) PPT (143KB) PDF (53KB)

section reviewed 30/04/14
section updated 30/04/14

 

In Europe and worldwide

Thyroid cancer is the 18th most common cancer in Europe, with around 53,000 new cases diagnosed in 2012 (2% of the total). In Europe (2012), the highest World age-standardised incidence rates for thyroid cancer are in Italy for men and Lithuania for women; the lowest rates are in Montenegro for men and Albania for women. UK thyroid cancer incidence rates are estimated to be the 11th lowest in males in Europe, and 15th lowest in females.16 These data are broadly in line with Europe-specific data available elsewhere.17

Thyroid cancer is the 16th most common cancer worldwide, with around 298,000 new cases diagnosed in 2012 (2% of the total). Thyroid cancer incidence rates are highest in Northern America and lowest in Western Africa, but this partly reflects varying data quality worldwide.16

Use our interactive map to explore the data for thyroid cancer.

Variation between countries may reflect different prevalence of risk factors, use of screening, and diagnostic methods.

section reviewed 12/06/14
section updated 12/06/14

Prevalence

Prevalence refers to the number of people who have previously received a diagnosis of cancer and who are still alive at a given time point. Some patients will have been cured of their disease and others will not.

Worldwide, it is estimated that there were more than 862,000 men and women still alive in 2008, up to five years after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer.15

section reviewed 17/05/13
section updated 17/05/13

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References for thyroid cancer incidence

  1. Data were provided by the Office for National Statistics on request, July 2013. Similar data can be found here: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/cancer-statistics-registrations--england--series-mb1-/index.html.
  2. Data were provided by ISD Scotland on request, May 2013. Similar data can be found here: http://www.isdscotland.org/Health-Topics/Cancer/Publications/index.asp.
  3. Data were provided by the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit on request, June 2013. Similar data can be found here: http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sites3/page.cfm?orgid=242&pid=59080.
  4. Data were provided by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry on request, June 2013. Similar data can be found here: http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/nicr/CancerData/OnlineStatistics/.
  5. Oxford Cancer Intelligence Unit. Profile of Head and Neck Cancers in England: Incidence, Mortality and Survival. 2010.
  6. Peterson E, De P, Nuttal R. BMI, diet and female reproductive factors as risks for thyroid cancer: a systematic review. PLoS ONE 2012;7(1):e29177
  7. Davies L, Welch HG. Increasing incidence of thyroid cancer in the United States, 1973-2002. JAMA 2006; 295(18): 2164-7
  8. Olaleve O, Ekrikpo U, Moorthy R, et al. Increasing incidence of differentiated thyroid cancer in South East England: 1987-2006. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol 2011;268(6):899-906.
  9. Chen AY, Jemal A, Ward EM. Increasing incidence of differentiated thyroid cancer in the United States, 1988-2005. Cancer 2009;115(16):3801-7
  10. Aschebrook-Kilfoy B, Ward MH, Sabra MM, et al. Thyroid cancer incidence patterns in the United States by histologic type, 1992-2006. Thyroid 2011;21(2):125-34
  11. Zhao ZG, Guo XG, Ba CX, et al. Overweight, Obesity and Thyroid Cancer Risk: A Meta-analysis of Cohort Studies. J Int Med Res 2012;40(6):2041-50.
  12. Blomberg M, Feldt-Rasmussen U, Anderson KK, et al. Thyroid cancer in Denmark 1943-2008, before and after iodine supplementation. Int J Cancer 2012;131(10):2360-6.
  13. Enewold L, Zhu K, Ron E, et al. Rising thyroid cancer incidence in the United States by demographic and tumor characteristics, 1980-2005. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2009;18(3):784-91.
  14. European Age-Standardised rates calculated by the Cancer Research UK Statistical Information Team, 2011, using data from GLOBOCAN 2008 v1.2, IARC, version 1.2.
  15. Ferlay J, Shin HR, Bray F, et al. GLOBOCAN 2008 v1.2, Cancer incidence and mortality worldwide: IARC CancerBase No. 10 [Internet]. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2010. Available from http://globocan.iarc.fr.
  16. Ferlay J, Soerjomataram I, Ervik M, et al. GLOBOCAN 2012 v1.0, Cancer Incidence and Mortality Worldwide: IARC CancerBase No. 11 [Internet]. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2013. Available from: http://globocan.iarc.fr, accessed December 2013.
  17. Ferlay J, Steliarova-Foucher E, Lortet-Tieulent J, et al.Cancer incidence and mortality patterns in Europe: Estimates for 40 countries in 2012. European Journal of Cancer (2013) 49, 1374-1403.
Updated: 30 April 2014