Thyroid cancer is a fairly common malignancy which can occur in any age group especially in people who have had radiation therapy in the neck area, although it is most common after age 30 and its aggressiveness increases significantly in older patients. Thyroid cancer develops in your thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck, just below your Adams apple.
Types of Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancers are divided into papillary carcinomas, follicular carcinomas, medullary thyroid carcinomas (MTCs), anaplastic carcinomas, primary thyroid lymphomas, and primary thyroid sarcomas.
Papillary tumours account for half of all thyroid cancers in adults, it is most common in young adult females. Follicular carcinomas are less common but more likely to recur and metastasize to the regional nodes and through blood vessels into the bones, liver and lungs. Medullary carcinoma is a rare familial cancer which is completely curable if detected before it causes symptoms. The least common type of thyroid cancer is anaplastic which has a very poor prognosis. Anaplastic thyroid cancer tends to be found after it has spread and is not cured in most cases
Causes of Thyroid Cancer
Predisposing factors include; radiation exposure, prolonged thyroid stimulating hormone exposure, familial predisposition and chronic goiter.
Signs and Symptoms
The primary signs of thyroid tumors are: a painless nodule, a lump or swelling in the neck sometimes growing rapidly, a pain in the front of the neck sometimes going up to the ears, hoarseness or other voice changes that do not go away, trouble swallowing, breathing problems, a cough that continues and is not due to a cold.
The first clue is usually an enlarged palpable nodule in the thyroid gland, neck, lymph nodes of the neck, or vocal chords. Tests must rule out non malignant thyroid enlargements which are much more common. Thyroid scans measure the ability of the nodules to trap isotopes in comparison to the rest of the thyroid. Other tests include CT scans, biopsy and ultrasonic scans.
Treatment options may include surgery to remove the thyroid gland and nearby lymph nodes, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy. Anaplastic cancer patients often require a tracheostomy during the treatment and treatment is much more aggressive than for other types of thyroid cancer.
Radioactive Iodine is given to the patient with thyroid cancer after their cancer has been removed because if there are any thyroid cancer cells remaining in the body then these cells will absorb and concentrate the radioactive poisonous iodine.
The survival rate for patients with papillary tumors which have not spread is excellent.
Medullary cancer of the thyroid is significantly less common, but has a worse prognosis.