Thyroid Cancer in South Africa: An Underestimated Challenge

Thyroid cancer, despite its low overall prevalence, is gradually gaining more attention in the global health arena due to its increasing incidence. For many years, South Africa, like many other African countries, has focused its resources on combating infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. However, the rising tide of non-communicable diseases, including thyroid cancer, has presented a significant health challenge that the country is now starting to address.

Thyroid Cancer: An Overview

Thyroid cancer originates in the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped organ located at the base of the neck. Although it accounts for a small fraction of total cancer cases, its incidence has been on an upward trend globally. The American Cancer Society reports that thyroid cancer is three times more common in women than men, with most cases being diagnosed in people aged between 20 and 55 years1.

The South African Context

In South Africa, the burden of thyroid cancer has been largely underestimated due to a paucity of comprehensive and reliable epidemiological data. However, the limited data available suggests a concerning rise in thyroid cancer incidence, mirroring global trends2.

A study from the National Cancer Registry of South Africa revealed a considerable increase in thyroid cancer cases, particularly among the female population3. This increase is likely multifactorial, with contributing factors including lifestyle changes, increased exposure to radiation, improvements in diagnostic capabilities, and increased awareness and screening.

Challenges and Opportunities

South Africa faces a unique set of challenges in addressing thyroid cancer. Firstly, there is a clear lack of comprehensive data, which hampers the development of effective public health strategies. Secondly, the country’s healthcare system is strained by the ongoing burden of infectious diseases, limiting resources available for cancer screening, diagnosis, and treatment.

Despite these challenges, opportunities exist for South Africa to tackle this growing health issue. Initiatives aimed at building robust cancer registries, improving healthcare infrastructure, and raising public awareness about thyroid cancer are critical.

Increased collaboration between the public and private sectors can lead to advancements in diagnostic capabilities, which is crucial for early detection and treatment of thyroid cancer. Moreover, leveraging the burgeoning field of telemedicine could help bridge the gap in access to healthcare services, particularly in remote and underserved areas4.


While thyroid cancer may not be the most prevalent cancer in South Africa, its increasing incidence warrants attention. Greater efforts are needed to understand the epidemiology of this disease, raise public awareness, and strengthen healthcare services. With a concerted approach, South Africa can successfully mitigate the impact of thyroid cancer and safeguard the health of its people.



  1. American Cancer Society. (2021). Key Statistics for Thyroid Cancer.
  2. Bello, B., Botha, M.H., & Veale, R.B. (2016). A 10-year review of thyroid cancer in a South African academic centre. South African Journal of Surgery, 54(3), 4-9.
  3. National Cancer Registry. (2018). Cancer in South Africa 2014. National Institute for Occupational Health.
  4. Mars, M. (2013). Telemedicine and advances in urban and rural healthcare delivery in Africa. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 56(3), 326-335.

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