Thyroid cancer is cancer that occurs in the thyroid gland, which is a butterfly shaped organ that extends around the base of the neck area. The thyroid is responsible for secreting hormones – thyroxine and triiodothyronine – which are used by the body to regulate the pace at which the body uses energy, regulate metabolism, create proteins, and control how the body should react to other hormones.
People of all ages can develop thyroid cancer, but it is most common for those over the age of 30, and its aggressiveness increases significantly in older patients. In addition, females are generally more likely to have thyroid cancer than males.
Thyroid cancer usually presents itself as a discrete growth within the thyroid. Sometime, there are no other symptoms that accompany the nodule, until it becomes a more significant size. Later symptoms that can occur are pain in the anterior region of the neck, difficulty swallowing, and hoarseness of the voice. Though it is mostly uncertain what could be the direct cause of thyroid cancer, it is believed that the most probable causes of thyroid cancer are exposure to radiation as a child and a family history of thyroid cancer.
There are four types of thyroid cancer: papillary, follicular, medullary, or anaplastic.
Papillary carcinoma is the most common type of cancer found in the thyroid gland. Papillary carcinoma typically presents itself as an irregular, solid or cystic mass that forms from normal thyroid tissue. It is found most often in women and spreads very slowly. This type of cancer is the least dangerous of all thyroid cancers and has a high cure rate with ten year survival rates for all patients with papillary thyroid cancer estimated at 80-90%.
Follicular carcinoma is responsible for about thirty percent of all thyroid cancers. It is considered to be a more aggressive type of cancer than papillary carcinoma and tends to present itself in a slightly older age group than papillary and is also less common in children. In contrast to papillary cancer, follicular carcinoma tends to occur only rarely after radiation therapy. This type of cancer can be treated but is highly likely to return and continue to spread throughout the body.
Medullary carcinoma is a thyroid cancer which most often occurs throughout a family. Medullary cancer of the thyroid originates from the parafollicular cells of the thyroid, as opposed to the normal hormone making cells in which both papillary and follicular occur. This type of cancer requires special treatment which differs from other treatments used in thyroid gland cancers.
Anaplastic carcinoma is the most dangerous form of thyroid cancer, but it is also rare. It often arises within a more differentiated thyroid cancer or even within a goiter. Anaplastic carcinoma is not treatable with radioiodine therapy and can spread very quickly to surrounding organs. This cancer is usually fatal even with treatment.
To date, there are no known methods of prevention for thyroid cancers. The best thing to do is to talk to your doctor about any symptoms you may have been having. The sooner a cancer is detected and properly identified, the better the chances are that treatment will take effect and result in a positive outcome.