Reporter: Shannon Samson
U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist was one of 24,000 Americans diagnosed with thyroid cancer this year. It's one of the few types of cancer that is actually on the rise in the U.S. And that's giving rise to a new wave of research.
It happens about every twenty minutes in the U.S., a new case of thyroid cancer is diagnosed. Most are treated quite successfully, so until recently, scientists weren't able to attract much research funding for it. But now that's changing, according internal medicine specialist Dr. Richard Kloos. "Recently there were no trials happening and no effective therapies for these patients. And there's been a blossoming of understanding of these tumors, understanding their pathways."
That new understanding is leading to a new wave of research. Scientists across the country could launch nearly two dozen new studies within a 24 month span. Ellen Yingst is involved in one of the studies at Ohio State University's Comprehensive Cancer Center and she may be the focus of attention for years to come.
Ellen has endured twenty years of therapy for thyroid cancer and when it spread to her lungs she signed up for another study. Although Ellen says when the study involved taking an arthritis pill she was.... "Shocked. I really was -- because how could an arthritis pill supposedly help a cancer tumor in the lung?"
But it did. In fact, the drug Celebrex, originally used in arthritis, shrunk the tumor in Ellen's lung by 40 percent. She was the only one in the study who saw that result, but it was intriguing enough that doctors here want to see if more patients can respond as well.
Internist Dr. Matthew Ringel says, "I think we really want to understand the differences between -- what's the difference between her tumor and the other tumors? Because she clearly acted differently in response to this medication than the other patients."
Doctors say drugs that affect cancer-causing genes may be the key to fighting thyroid cancer -- and will certainly be the focus of at least some of the attention the disease is now getting. Women are three times more likely to get thyroid cancer than men.
Simple Self Test
Because it typically does not cause symptoms, doctors suggest you do a "neck check" self-exam once a year. Take a drink of water while standing in front of a mirror. If you see a lump between your Adam's apple and your collar bone as you swallow, have a doctor check it out.