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FRIDAY, April 12 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have pinpointed a genetic mutation that is strongly associated with an increased risk of death in people with thyroid cancer.
The investigators followed more than 1,800 patients after their initial treatment for papillary thyroid cancer, which accounts for 85 percent to 90 percent of all thyroid cancers.
After an average follow-up period of 33 months, 5 percent of those with the BRAF V600E mutation had died, compared with 1 percent of those without the mutation, according to the study in the April 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
However, the link between this mutation and increased risk of death was not independent of tumor characteristics, the study authors noted in a journal news release.
This, and the fact that the overall death rate from papillary thyroid cancer is low, means that it is unclear how to use these findings to reduce death risk in patients with this type of cancer, said Dr. Mingzhao Xing, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and colleagues.
The overall five-year survival rate for patients with papillary thyroid cancer is 95 percent to 97 percent. It's a challenge to distinguish patients who require aggressive treatment in order to reduce their risk of death from patients who do not, the researchers explained.
Even so, the authors of an accompanying editorial pointed out that the study provided important insight.
According to the editorialists, Dr. Anne Cappola and Dr. Susan Mandel of the University of Pennsylvania, "Although these findings do not support widespread BRAF V600E testing, they do support the need for additional study of how BRAF testing can be used to improve the already excellent prognosis of patients with papillary thyroid cancer."
While the study found an association between the gene mutation and thyroid cancer survival, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, news release, April 9, 2013