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California thyroid cancer rate higher than national average

Can you say, “Fukushima?”

Researchers think environmental effects related to the large amount of farmland in California could be affecting thyroid cancer rates there.

The overall rate of advanced-stage thyroid cancer diagnoses in California is six percent higher than the rest of the United States, with several geographical areas in the state outpacing the statewide rate by even more. Photo by Bork/Shutterstock

The overall rate of advanced-stage thyroid cancer diagnoses in California is six percent higher than the rest of the United States, with several geographical areas in the state outpacing the statewide rate by even more. Photo by Bork/Shutterstock

Although thyroid cancer rates are increasing across the United States, researchers found several parts of California, and the state overall, have a higher incidence of its diagnosis at an advanced stage, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles were surprised to find the higher rates of thyroid cancer in California, struggling to find an explanation.

About 29 percent of people diagnosed with thyroid cancer have an advanced stage of the disease at diagnosis. The new study showed nearly half the geographical areas analyzed in the study had higher incidence of diagnosis at an advanced stage.

Dr. Avital Harari, an assistant professor of surgery at UCLA, said her research suggests environmental conditions could be the culprit.

“California has the largest amount of farmland in the country, so this type of exposure could very well contribute to our thyroid cancer rates,” Harari speculated in a press release.

The researchers analyzed data from the California Cancer Registry on 26,983 people who received a thyroid cancer diagnosis between 1999 and 2008.

Overall, 6.73 percent of California patients had distant metastatic thyroid cancer and 34.92 had a regionally metastatic form of the disease, which researchers said is significantly higher than the national rates of 4 percent and 29 percent reported by the national Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program.

Twenty of the 47 geographic areas in California included in the study had higher averages of advanced cancer than the 29 percent national average, ranging from 33 percent to as high as 51 percent. The list was topped by 51 percent in the combined area of Alpine, Amador, and Calaveras counties, followed by 48 percent in Imperial County, 45 percent in Sutter County, 41 percent in San Francisco County, and 40 percent in Santa Barbara County.

Several other large Southern California counties also had rates higher than 33 percent, including San Bernardino, San Diego, Los Angeles, Fresno, Ventura and Orange counties.

While the counties were not necessarily grouped in any one part of the state, Harari’s observation about farmland is leading her to look there for causes. The only known environmental risk factor for thyroid cancer is radiation exposure, but researchers said it is unlikely to be the only cause.

Harari said she plans to look to pesticides and radon exposure in the state for possible links to the higher advanced thyroid cancer rates there.

The study is published in the Journal of Surgical Research.

Written by Stephen Feller for UPI, December 10, 2015.

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