Thyroid cancer is a rare form of cancer that affects the thyroid gland, a small gland at the bottom of the neck that produces hormones.
It's mainly common in people in their 30s and those above the age of 60. Women are 2 to 3 times more likely to get it than men.
Thyroid cancer is a condition that is generally treatable and in most cases can be cured fully, although it may sometimes return after treatment.
Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
Symptoms of thyroid cancer can include:
A trouble-free lump or swelling in the front of the neck – although only 1 out of 20 neck lumps are cancer.
Swollen glands in the neck.
Puzzling hoarseness that does not get better after a few weeks.
A sore throat that won’t improve.
When to get medical advice
See a doctor if you have symptoms of thyroid cancer. The symptoms may be as a result of less serious conditions, such as an enlarged thyroid (goiter), so it's essential to get them checked.
A doctor will check your neck and can organize a blood test to confirm how well your thyroid is working.
If they think you could have cancer or they're not sure what the reason for your symptoms is, you'll be referred to a hospital specialist for more tests.
Types of Thyroid Cancer
There are mainly four forms of thyroid cancer:
Papillary carcinoma – the most common type, accounting for around 8 in 10 cases; it normally affects people under 40, especially women.
Follicular carcinoma – this accounts for around 1 in 10 cases with tendency to affect middle-aged people, especially women.
Medullary thyroid carcinoma – this accounts for less than 1 in 10 cases and it usually runs in families unlike the others.
Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma – this is rarest and most severe type, accounting for around 1 in 50 cases; it usually affects persons over the age of 60.
Papillary and follicular carcinomas are sometimes referred to as differentiated thyroid cancers. They tend to be easier to manage than the other types.
Causes of Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer occurs when there's a change to the DNA inside thyroid cells which makes them to grow wildly and produce a lump.
It's not really clear what causes this change, but there are a number of things that can increase your risk.
Other thyroid problems, such as an inflamed thyroid (thyroiditis) or goiter – but not an overactive or underactive thyroid.
A family history of thyroid cancer – your risk is greater if a close relative has had thyroid cancer.
Exposure to radiation especially in childhood – such as radiotherapy.
A bowel disease known as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).
Acromegaly – an uncommon condition where the body produces a lot of growth hormone.
Treatments for Thyroid Cancer
The cure for thyroid cancer is dependent on the type of thyroid cancer you have and how wide it has spread.
The main treatments are:
· Surgery – to remove a fraction or all of the thyroid.
· Radioactive iodine treatment – you ingest a radioactive substance that travels through your blood and destroys the cancer cells.
· External radiotherapy – a machine is used to lead beams of radiation at the cancer cells to kill them.
· Chemotherapy and targeted therapies – medicines are used to kill the cancer cells.
After treatment, you'll have follow-up appointments to check whether the cancer has returned.
Outlook for Thyroid Cancer
About 9 in every 10 people live up to 5 years after a diagnosis of thyroid cancer. Many of these are cured and will have a standard lifespan.
But the outlook differs depending on the type of thyroid cancer and how early it was noticed. At present the outlook is:
· More than 9 in 10 persons with papillary carcinoma live at least 5 years after diagnosis.
· More than 9 in 10 persons with follicular carcinoma live at least 5 years after diagnosis.
· More than 7 in 10 males, and around 9 in 10 females with medullary thyroid carcinoma live at least 5 years after diagnosis.
· About 1 in 10 people with anaplastic thyroid carcinoma live at least 5 years after diagnosis.
Up to 1 in 4 people treated for thyroid cancer are later diagnosed with cancer in a different part of the body, such as the lungs or bones, but cancer can regularly be treated again if this happens.
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