What is Pediatric Thyroid Cancer?
Pediatric thyroid cancer is a cancer that occurs in the thyroid gland in children. The thyroid is a small gland located below the Adam's apple in the neck. It secretes hormones that help regulate certain bodily functions and it also plays an important role in children's growth and development. Female children are affected by pediatric thyroid cancer approximately four times more often than male children.
Causes of Pediatric Thyroid Cancer
When malignant (cancerous) cells form in the thyroid gland's tissues, it is referred to as thyroid cancer. Risk factors that increase the chances of children developing thyroid cancer include the following:
- Exposure to radiation, usually from radiation treatment, diagnostic tests, or environmental radiation.
- Have a family history of thyroid issues or thyroid cancer.
- Have genetic markers that make a person more susceptible to thyroid cancer.
The specific type of pediatric thyroid cancer depends upon which cells become cancerous initially within the thyroid gland. The different types of thyroid cancer include:
- Papillary - Develops in the cells that produce thyroid hormones that contain iodine.
- Follicular - Similar to papillary, but affects an older age group of children and is less common.
- Medullary - Develops in cells that produce a hormone that does not contain iodine.
- Anaplastic - Thyroid cancer that grows the fastest but does not occur in children.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Pediatric Thyroid Cancer
Most children feel little to no symptoms at the time that they are diagnosed with thyroid cancer. If symptoms are present in your child, they will commonly include the following:
- Formation of a lump in or around the neck area
- Unexplained hoarse voice
- Swallowing or breathing difficulties
- Swollen or inflamed lymph nodes in the neck
It should be noted that these symptoms are often associated with other more common, less severe medical conditions. Diagnosis of pediatric thyroid cancer generally involves examinations of the neck and thyroid area, blood tests, and biopsies.
Treatments for Pediatric Thyroid Cancer
When a tumor on the thyroid gland is determined to be malignant (cancerous), surgery is often the recommended treatment method. Thyroid surgery will involve partial removal (lobectomy or subtotal thyroidectomy) or full removal (thyroidectomy) of the thyroid gland.
Radioactive iodine therapy may be used following surgical procedures to ensure that cancerous cells are destroyed. Since the thyroid gland, which normally produces hormones, is partially or completely removed, your child may need to do thyroid hormone therapy for the remainder of their life.