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Immigrants from Southeast and East Asia at higher risk for thyroid cancer


Immigrants from Southeast and East Asia have a higher risk of being diagnosed with thyroid cancer than other immigrants and non-immigrants in Ontario, according to a new study by researchers at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES).

“Our findings show that immigrants from the Philippines, South Korea and China are at a particularly elevated risk of developing thyroid cancer, about two to three times that of non-immigrants,” says Dr. Baiju Shah, lead author and senior scientist at ICES.

Thyroid cancer develops in the cells of the thyroid — a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck below the larynx and near the trachea. The thyroid produces hormones that regulate heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight.

Thyroid cancer is an uncommon form of cancer; however, its incidence is on the rise and has been for the past several decades. It can often be cured with treatment.

The study included nearly 15 million Ontario residents, encompassed within that cohort was 203,361 Southeast Asian immigrants, 364,288 East Asian immigrants, and 1,611,968 other immigrants, who were followed for approximately 17 years.

The study found the incidence of thyroid cancer per year of the study was:

  • 44 cases per 100,000 people among Southeast Asian immigrants
  • 29 cases per 100,000 people among East Asian immigrants
  • 22 cases per 100,000 people among other immigrants
  • 15 cases per 100,000 people among non-immigrants

The researchers add that their findings suggest the need for different diagnostic approaches for particular ethnic groups that are at higher risk of developing thyroid cancer.

“Clinicians should be aware that immigrants from these regions are at significantly increased risk for thyroid cancer. Therefore, biopsies of thyroid nodules should be considered for such patients with smaller nodules or with fewer risk factors than what is recommended for the general population,” adds Shah, also a staff physician, Divisions of Endocrinology and Obstetric Medicine, Department of Medicine, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

The researchers also found that while East Asians are at a higher risk of developing thyroid cancer, they had a lower risk for recurrence after initial treatment.

“Thyroid cancer incidence among Asian immigrants to Ontario, Canada: a population-based cohort study,” was published today in Cancer.

Author block: Baiju R Shah, Rebecca Griffiths and Stephen F Hall.

The Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of healthcare issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting healthcare needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy. For the latest ICES news, follow us on Twitter: @ICESOntario


Deborah Creatura
Media Advisor, ICES
[email protected]
(o) 416-480-4780 or (c) 647-406-5996


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