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AstraZeneca plc (ADR) (AZN), Exelixis, Inc. (EXEL), Pfizer Inc. (PFE) & Tackling Cancer: Thyroid Cancer’s Biggest Current and Upcoming Players

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As I noted eight weeks ago, cancer statistics are both staggering and disappointing. Although cancer deaths per 100,000 people have been on the downswing since 1991 thanks to access to more effective medications and better awareness about the negative health effects of smoking, there is still a lot of research and progress yet to achieve. My focus in this 12-week series is to bring to light both the need for continued research in these fields, as well as highlight ways you can profit from the biggest current and upcoming players in each area.

Over the past seven weeks, we’ve looked at the seven cancer types most expected to be diagnosed this year:

Prostate cancer

Breast cancer

Lung cancer

Colorectal cancer

Melanoma

Bladder cancer

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Today, we’ll turn our attention to the projected eighth-most diagnosed cancer: thyroid cancer.

The skinny on thyroid cancer
There certainly is a give and a take to thyroid cancer. On one hand, thyroid cancer is the fastest growing cancer for both sexes. It afflicts women in nearly three out of every four cases, and incidence rates have been going up at a rate of 5.6% per year for men and 7% per year for women between 2005 and 2009. Worse yet, it’s one of the few cancers whose risk doesn’t seem to increase with age. A shocking 80% of newly diagnosed cases are people under age 65 according, to the American Cancer Society (links opens a PDF file).


Sources: Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, and National Center for Health Statistics.

On the other hand, with 60,220 cases of thyroid cancer forecast to be diagnosed this year, only 1,850 deaths are projected to be as a result of thyroid cancer. This means if it’s caught early enough, it’s a very preventable, even curable, cancer. In 1975-1977, five-year survival rates for thyroid cancer tallied an already impressive 92%. By 2002-2008, that figure has climbed to 98%, with local and regional thyroid cancers demonstrating 100% and 97% five-year survival rates.

Amazingly, there aren’t any diagnostic tests for thyroid cancer, so patients really need to keep their eyes open for lumps in their throat, or stiffness in their neck. Being female, having a history of goiter, or having been exposed to radiation are the most likely risk factors that could contribute to a thyroid cancer diagnosis.

Where investment dollars are headed
Thyroid cancer is treated in nearly every case with a full or partial thyroid removal since the majority of thyroid cancers aren’t aggressive. However, in those rare cases where surgery isn’t an option or the disease has metastasized to other parts of the body, there are two drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to choose from.

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