What is Thyroid Cancer?
The thyroid helps to regulate your body's metabolism, heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure. It is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck, below the Adam's apple that functions by secreting different hormones. Whenever cancerous cells develop in the thyroid, it thyroid cancer arises. Fortunately, most instances of thyroid cancer can be cured through various treatment options.
Causes of Thyroid Cancer
The specific cause of thyroid cancer is not always known; however, people with a family history of thyroid cancer are more likely to be affected by it. Thyroid cancer occurs when the thyroid's cells experience genetic mutations that causes the cells to grow, over-multiply, and not die off like noncancerous thyroid cells. The accumulation of cancerous thyroid cells then form a tumor, can invade adjacent tissues or spread to other parts of your body.
There are varying types of thyroid cancer with different severities and recommended treatments. The types of thyroid cancer are as follows:
- Papillary Thyroid Cancer - Most frequently occurring type of thyroid cancer, commonly affects people between the ages of 30 and 50, but can affect people of all ages.
- Thyroid Lymphoma - Originates in the thyroid's immune system cells, is rare, and generally occurs in older adults.
- Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer - Rare, quickly spreading thyroid cancer, difficult to treat effectively, and usually affects adults older than age 60.
- Follicular Thyroid Cancer - Rare type of thyroid cancer, most commonly occurring in people older than age 50.
- Medullary Thyroid Cancer - Can be detected by blood tests, and is more common in people with specific genetic syndromes.
People have a higher chance of being affected by thyroid cancer under the following conditions:
- If you have been exposed to radiation (radiation treatments, environmental radiation).
- If you have inherited specific genetic conditions or syndromes.
- If you are female, you are more likely than males to be affected by thyroid cancer.
- If you are over age 40.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Thyroid Cancer
There are little to no apparent symptoms of thyroid cancer in its early stages; however, symptoms for mid to late stage thyroid cancer usually include the following:
- Formation of an unexplained lump in the throat area
- Throat or neck pain
- Swallowing or breathing difficulties
- Recurrent cough
- Hoarse voice
- Swollen or enlarged lymph nodes in your neck
Diagnosis of thyroid cancer typically involves a physical examination and tests. Laboratory tests for thyroid cancer often include thyroid function tests, ultrasounds, biopsies, or a laryngoscopy.
Treatments for Thyroid Cancer
Treatment will often vary based on the type of thyroid cancer, severity, symptoms, and your preference for type of treatment. Thyroid cancer treatments can include the following:
- Surgery - most common form of initial treatment, can involve partial or complete removal of the thyroid gland.
- Ingestion of Radioactive Iodine - destroys remaining cancer cells after surgery.
- External Radiation Therapy or Chemotherapy - Less frequent than surgery, but is often used if you are unable to undergo surgical procedures for thyroid cancer.
- Thyroid Hormone Therapy - Undertaken after surgery to replace the hormones that your now removed thyroid gland used to produce.