Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid Cancer

Overview Of Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer is cancer that starts in the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is located inside the front of your lower neck.

Commonly Associated With

Tumor – thyroid; Cancer – thyroid; Nodule – thyroid cancer; Papillary thyroid carcinoma; Medullary thyroid carcinoma; Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma; Follicular thyroid cancer

Causes Of Thyroid Cancer

This type of cancer can occur in people of any age.

Radiation increases the risk of developing this cancer. Exposure may occur from:

  • Radiation therapy to the neck (especially in childhood)
  • Radiation exposure from nuclear plant disasters
  • Other risk factors are a family history of thyroid cancer and chronic goiter (enlarged thyroid).

There are several types of thyroid cancer:

  • Anaplastic carcinoma (also called giant and spindle cell cancer) is the most dangerous form. It is rare and spreads quickly.
  • Follicular tumor is more likely to come back and spread.
  • Medullary carcinoma is a cancer of non-thyroid hormone-producing cells that are normally present in the thyroid gland. This form of the cancer tends to occur in families.
  • Papillary carcinoma is the most common type, and it usually affects women of childbearing age. It spreads slowly and is the least dangerous type of this cancer.

Symptoms Of Thyroid Cancer

Symptoms vary depending on the type of cancer, but may include:

  • Cough
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Enlargement of the thyroid gland
  • Hoarseness or changing voice
  • Neck swelling
  • Thyroid lump (nodule)

Exams & Tests

Your health care provider will perform a physical exam. This may reveal a lump in the thyroid, or swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

The following tests may be done:

  • Calcitonin blood test to check for medullary thyroid cancer
  • Laryngoscopy (looking inside the throat using a mirror or flexible tube called a laryngoscope placed through the mouth) to assess vocal cord function
  • Thyroid biopsy, which may include genetic testing of the cells obtained in the biopsy
  • Thyroid scan
  • TSH, free T4 (blood tests for thyroid function)
  • Ultrasound of the thyroid and the lymph nodes of the neck
  • CT scan of the neck (to determine the extent of the cancerous mass)
  • PET scan

Treatment Of Thyroid Cancer

Treatment depends on the type of cancer. Treatment of most types is effective if diagnosed early.

Surgery is most often done. All or part of the thyroid gland may be removed. If your provider suspects that the cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the neck, these will also be removed. If some of your gland remains, you will need a follow-up ultrasound and possibly other studies to detect any regrowth of the cancer.

Radiation therapy may be done with or without surgery. It may be performed by:

  • Taking radioactive iodine by mouth
  • Aiming external beam (x-ray) radiation at the thyroid
  • After treatment, you must take thyroid hormone pills for the rest of your life. The dosage is usually slightly higher than what your body needs. This helps keep cancer from coming back. The pills also replace the thyroid hormone your body needs to function normally.

If cancer does not respond to surgery or radiation and has spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy or targeted therapy may be used. These are only effective for a small number of people.