Background: Overdiagnosis is a phenomenon where an indolent cancer is diagnosed that otherwise would not have caused harm to the patient during their lifetime. The rising incidence of papillary thyroid cancer (PTC) in various regions of the world is attributed to overdiagnosis. In such regions, the rates of papillary thyroid microcarcinoma (PTMC) are also rising. We aimed to study whether a similar pattern of rising PTMC is found in Kerala, a state in India, where there has been a doubling of thyroid cancer incidence over a decade.
Methods: We conducted a retrospective cohort study in two large government medical colleges, which are tertiary referral facilities in the state of Kerala. We collected data on the PTC diagnosis in Kozhikode and Thrissur Government Medical colleges from 2010 to 2020. We analysed our data by age, gender and tumor size.
Results: The incidence of PTC at Kozhikode and Thrissur Government Medical colleges nearly doubled from 2010 to 2020. The overall proportion of PTMC in these specimens was 18.9%. The proportion of PTMC only marginally increased from 14.7 to 17.9 during the period. Of the total incidence of microcarcinomas, 64% were reported in individuals less than 45 years of age.
Conclusion: The rise in the number of PTCs diagnosed in the government-run public healthcare centres in Kerala state in India is unlikely to be due to overdiagnosis since there was no disproportionate rise in rates of PTMCs. The patients that these hospitals cater to may be less likely to show healthcare-seeking behavior or ease of healthcare access which is closely associated with the problem of overdiagnosis.